CLARE Dullard is knocking on neighbours' doors asking them to join her online "village".
The Flora Hill resident is one of 40 people helping test a new social media platform completely owned by Bendigo residents which developers hope will rekindle an eroded sense of community.
The bHive platform will officially launch in a few weeks and Ms Dullard is testing how well it allows people to set up their own "villages" of friends, family and neighbours to share each others' tools, food and even cars.
"You get to choose who goes on your community. So If I just put on people I know I'm more than happy to share any resources they might want to borrow," Ms Dullard said.
bHive was created to encourage neighbours to strengthen their communities - or, in an age of increased loneliness and isolation, to join one in the first place.
"To me, it's about bringing back that feeling of belonging," Ms Dullard said.
"It's one we used to have before everyone started driving straight into their own garages each night and never stopping out the front to wave to their neighbours.
"Some people are naturally very good at building community despite that ... but I think housing infrastructure is changing the way people live."
Ms Dullard hopes it would also help the environment and people's hip pockets.
After all, you do not have to buy everything you need to do a job around the house if you can ask to borrow things from your neighbours.
bHive executive officer Ian McBurney said that unlike other social media platforms, this one will be owned by the communities that use it.
"It's democratically owned. One member, one vote," he said.
"All the other tech platforms are feeding the billionaires. All the value of bHive stays in places like Bendigo."
So will the data, Mr McBurney said.
"If you are the owner of your own platform you would not imagine selling your own data, can you? Or breaching your own privacy," he said.
"So there's a very different feel to bHive's structure."
bHive was already in development before the pandemic arrived but social distancing and lockdowns have intensified the need for a sense of community, Mr McBurney said.
"We've all had this new found sense of what that is over the last six months," he said.
"We feel like it's time to reconnect."
Mr McBurney is even getting requests from people outside Bendigo who want to start their own cooperatives using the bHive platform.
Many have been in touch because they want to help neighbours or friends struggling with isolation.
"They want a way to be able to organise rosters to check in on people who are living alone and who maybe could do with someone checking in on them, or to cook for them," Mr McBurney said.
"It's that kind of mutual aid you get in neighbourhoods."
bHive will officially launch on 10 November but is already beginning to operate.
Anyone in Bendigo can sign up to the platform right now.
Ms Dullard is among those testing the site for bugs and to make sure it loads in different browsers and on different devices.
Mr McBurney said it was a slow, careful process to find what works and what needs a fix.
"That last minute development side of it is pretty full on. I'll probably write a book about it one day."
bHive was made possible through a grant from the City of Greater Brendigo and Fosterville mine owner Kirkland Lake Gold.
To check out the bHive platform or to learn about how you can get involved jump online and visit www.bhive.coop
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