Film viewing inspires community building workshop in Wingham

·5 min read

Wingham Community Connectors hosted viewing of ‘The Great Disconnect’ on April 18

WINGHAM – The Wingham Community Connectors held a community building event at Maitland River Elementary School on April 18 that began by watching the award-winning feature film The Great Disconnect.

Community Developer Gloria Workman, from Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH), was instrumental in bringing the production to Wingham. She spoke to the attendees about the film, providing a brief synopsis and explaining how the community-building exercise would work.

“I’ve seen it about six times,” said Workman. “And every time I see the film, I learn something new. We are living in a time; it’s been described as the age of loneliness. Despite western advances in technology, living conditions, education, and health care, we, as a society, are isolating ourselves from one another. And because of this, (we are) facing a health crisis that affects all ages, genders, races, and cultures.

“This type of documentary invites us to reflect on the relationships we have with those around us and raises the question, is it possible to overcome our modern culture of disconnectedness and rediscover how truly essential we are to one another?”

Although the film was created before the pandemic, the issues it discussed are even more pertinent now after the increased social isolation caused by the lockdown measures that were taken to prevent the spread of COVID–19.

Concrete jungles have taken over green spaces. Front porches have been replaced with closed garage doors. Fences surround backyards, isolating people from meeting neighbours and potential new friends.

Texting, social media, and emails have replaced visits to the local coffee shop, family dinners, and many social gatherings to “catch up” with friends and hold actual conversations that have been drastically reduced by emojis and acronyms.

How do we create more community connections in this new and increasingly online age?

Inspired to make the film during a trip to the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, film director Tamer Soliman said he noticed how connected the people were in the small community he visited.

“Despite lacking material possessions that most of us place such high value on, the people of this village seemed happy, healthy, and really connected to one another,” said Soliman. “This made me wonder, how do people in North America feel about their sense of community and connectedness? And what, if any, effect does this have on our overall well-being?

“These questions inspired me to direct and produce The Great Disconnect. As I met with experts in economic, social and urban planning, I discovered how multifaceted this idea of community well-being is, and how crucial it is to our existence. There are great benefits to being able to come together, but there are also ill effects that stem from community breakdown. These effects — such as loneliness and social isolation — are being labeled as epidemics, epidemics that may become one of society’s biggest challenges of the 21st century.”

Questions like how we became so disconnected and what we can do about it sparked in-depth conversations between the approximately 45 Wingham residents who attended the event.

Workman held a ‘Mini World Café’ after the film, where folks were divided into groups and spent six minutes at each of the five tables spread out around the school’s gymnasium.

Each table had two members from the Wingham Community Connectors group who wrote down the answers to five different community-building questions.

“Focus on your thinking, speak your mind and heart,” said Workman after the film. “Listen to understand, link and connect ideas. Listen together for deeper insights. And most importantly, have fun.”

Question 1 - What are the best things about Wingham?

The community members highlighted the town’s many amenities, such as various recreational activities, beauty and cleanliness, service clubs, schools, parks, and trails.

A wide diversity of businesses and friendly, approachable people contribute to the sense of community felt in the small town. In addition, safe, stable, and quiet neighbourhoods also lend to the sense of security many feel.

Question 2 - What could individuals do to help people feel more connected?

Beginning with simply smiling and saying hello topped the answers to this question. Being patient, brave, and holding more community events like potlucks and markets would create comfortable spaces for newcomers to meet their neighbours.

Question 3 - How can we encourage more volunteering in our community?

This question raised a great list of how to inspire townsfolk to become more involved, including hosting more volunteer fairs, better communication and visibility, more advertising, and using the Wingham Community Connectors Facebook page to provide a list of where volunteers are needed.

Question 4 - How can we embrace all cultures in our community?

Another great response included many beautiful ideas to help community members feel more involved. Food topped the list, with several suggestions to host events involving cooking, sharing recipes, and food fairs.

Ensuring that different types of food, specific to the variety of nationalities living in the community, and rotating dinner events with diverse ethnic menus would provide a learning opportunity for all participants.

Welcome packages with information about the many wonderful venues, small gifts from local businesses, welcome night events, and possibly using local newspapers to interview newcomers were also on that list.

Question 5 - Has the film triggered any ideas that you feel passionate about?

The answers to this question zeroed in on community gatherings, gardens, and doing more to protect the environment (“if the climate is suffering, people suffer too”). Combating loneliness through community outreach, just talking to one another, putting phones away, and going back to telephone party lines were some of the suggestions.

“Making this film has changed my definition of what it really means to be healthy – physically, emotionally, and socially,” said Soliman. “My hope is that by watching this film people will reflect on the idea that to be well, we need to find ways to come together. The health of society as a whole depends on it.”

If you’re interested in Tamer’s keynote, The Power of Connection: How to Build Community in the 21st century, contact him directly at

The Great Disconnect is now available for streaming through Films For Action. You can now rent or buy the film online at

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times