Community and Neighbourhood Centres have a long history in Australia spanning nearly 50 years; emerging from social reforms in the 1970's and often from women in communities coming together for support and action.
They are generally small, not-for-profit community organisations that work from a community development framework and are embedded in their local community, enabling them to respond to arising issues at a grass roots level (Izmir et al (2009:iii) . Most utilise a community management model, which means they are community owned and managed (through volunteer committees). In other words, people ‘are involved in defining and taking action on the issues that affect them’ (Rooney, 2011:5 ).
"Another characteristic of centres is generally that their focus is spatially defined with a ‘strong identification or embedding within a particular geographical area, region and/or community’ (Rooney, 2011:5). Centres themselves are also a ‘place’, sometimes a house although the work of centres generally also happens in a wide range of different spaces and locations across a place" (Strengthening people and places, 2011).
‘The research shows that neighbourhood centres form a key element of the social infrastructure of disadvantaged communities. The infrastructure provided by the centres can be quickly mobilised, expanded or readjusted to respond to local needs, emerging issues or opportunities” (Izmir et al (2009:iii).
Neighbourhood and Community Centres generally directly offer a range of programs; but also provide a space in community for other services to operate out of (community service hub). They play a key role in providing Information and referral in communities related to community and social servcies and offer a 'soft entry' point or non stigmatising human service delivery point in communities. They are flexible and dynamic in how they can move from crisis and problem based responses to a more holistic and integrated approach to support.
They have been identified in literature as a key to building social capital in communities (Bullen and Onyx, 2005); and play an important role in strengthening communities, generating social wellbeing and connection. Most centres have a strong volunteer base and are heavily reliant on volunteers to maintain their role in communities. Funding has traditionally come from a variety of sources including state, local and federal government; philanthropic; donations and self generated income.
The Queensland Families and Communities Association (QFCA) is the statewide network for Community and Neighbourhood Centres in Queensland and whose mission is to:
- Be the strategic link between members and government in policy development.
- Strengthen communication between members through active, informed and connected regional representatives.
- Facilitate and resource a valued and connected membership.
The Queensland Government funds more than 100 neighbourhood and community centres which provide friendly, localised access to child, family and community services. There are centres in rural, remote and urban communities throughout Queensland.
There has been some work undertaken over recent years in Queensland to develop a statewide framework for Community and Neighbourhood Centres to provide some structure and unifying features to organisations. This is a key recommendation emerging from the Strengthening People and Places: the role and value of community and neighbourhood centres (2011).
Recommendation 1: That a strategic policy framework supporting community and neighbourhood centres is developed by the Queensland Government in partnership with centres. This framework needs to recognise the importance and complementary nature of local-level infrastructure capable of responding to many issues and opportunities including during a crisis event. This framework should also include specific links to existing government policies such as prevention and early intervention, targets to increase volunteering, and place-based approaches to reducing disadvantage and social exclusion.
In Victoria, the peak body for Neighbourhood and Community Houses has developed a framework in partnerhship with the sector that outlines key principles and practices for working in community.
These six steps enable Neighbourhood Houses to meet the needs of their local communities.
- Involving: Involving the community and encouraging participation and inclusion, and valuing diversity and difference at all levels of neighbourhood house operation
- Identifying: Identifying community needs and aspirations
- Determining: Determining appropriate community programs, activities and services in response to those needs, ensuring that diversity and difference are valued
- Partnering: Partnering with community organisations, businesses, government and philanthropic organisations to secure appropriate funding and support
- Delivering: Delivering quality programs, activities and services
- Evaluating: Evaluating the effectiveness of all aspects of neighbourhood house operations, including programs, practice and governance.
Neighbourhood Houses are guided by the following sector principles:
- Community ownership: To set, manage and control the direction, resources, decision making and processes of the neighbourhood house or centre in order that local volunteer members have a sense of ownership and intrinsic belonging.
- Community participation: To recognise that everyone has a valuable contribution to make and to facilitate community members to join in at any level. Volunteers and community members are integral to the decision making, evaluation, provision, participation and direction setting at all levels of the organisation.
- Empowerment: To put into practice a process that respects, values and enhances people’s ability to have control of their lives. This process encourages people to meet their needs and aspirations in a self-aware and informed way that takes advantage of their skills, experience and potential.
- Access and equity: To ensure fair and equitable access for all people. Striving to make meaningful opportunities, programs, activities and services accessible to individuals, groups and the community. To promote a fairer distribution of economic resources and power between people.
- Lifelong learning: To build and support the personal skills, knowledge, abilities and resilience of people. To develop the health, wellbeing and connection of people and their families through formal and informal pathways in education, employment and self-development.
- Inclusion: To value the diverse contributions that people make and to be sensitive to their individual needs.
- Networking: To link, form alliances, collaborate and work with individuals, groups, other agencies, government and business.
- Advocacy: To act with and on behalf of community members to endeavour that their individual or group needs are met.
- Selfhelp: To come together in a supportive group environment to share information, knowledge, skills and life experience in order that each participant can reach their own personal goals.
- Social action: To analyse internal and external factors that have an impact on the local community, and to transform relationships between individuals, groups and organisations and within the community through collective action.
Below are some additonal paper and information related to community and neighbourhood centres
- Community resilience in Queensland
- Strengthening People and Places: the role and value of community and neighbourhood centres
- A silver lining:community development, crisis and belonging; exploring the role of community development in Queensland's recovery from the 2011 floods
- The Australian Neighbourhood Houses and Centres Association (ANHCA)
- Strengthening local communities: Who are we and what do we do?
- Neighbourhood and Community Centres: results for children, families and communities