FeatureThe Locals

Counterpoint’s first 40 years – an interview with Michael Shreenan

Brittany Johnson talks to Counterpoint Community Services EO Michael Shreenan about Counterpoint’s antecedent organisations, current services and advocacy, funding challenges, and getting involved.

Tanya Plibersek MP with Counterpoint staff to celebrate more than 40 years of community service. Photo: Supplied

Tell us about The Factory Community Centre and recent celebrations.
The Factory was first incorporated in 1977, and South Sydney Community Aid in 1968. We merged in 2017 to form Counterpoint Community Services Inc. (Counterpoint). So officially we are 40-plus years old.

We have run a number of events throughout the year to mark the occasion, including the legendary Summer on the Green event in January. Then, during the month of May, we decided to capitalise on national Neighbourhood Centre Week, Volunteer Week and Careers Week, with 17 events in partnership with diverse local stakeholders and residents.

These ranged from thematic morning teas, capacity building workshops, celebratory meals with special guest speakers, art exhibitions, theatre productions, and our annual Volunteer Awards which saw over 138 local volunteers and groups recognised for their contributions to building a healthy and resilient community in Redfern and Waterloo.

We did this all under #BetterTogether as we know our achievements over the last 40 years are a result of great local collaboration and support. Our services rely on many other specialised services in the area, as well as the loyal support of local residents and volunteers whose passion and skills are priceless.

What are the services you provide?
Counterpoint runs The Factory Community Centre in Waterloo, the Multicultural Community Centre at the Alexandria Town Hall, Supported Playgroups at Alexandria Park Community School and Dobell Building, Poets Corner Pre-school in Redfern, and Waterloo Recycling Workshop in Phillip Street, Waterloo.

Our facilities allow people to meet their friends in a safe environment. We host a wide range of community groups, and a number of third-party agencies that operate outreach services, including Sydney Local Health District, REDWatch, Redfern Legal Centre, Jewishcare, Spanish Community Care and Barnardos’ Yurungai Learning Centre, just to mention a few.

Our Client/Family Support team provides generic case management and counselling, support and advocacy for individuals and families on a range of issues including housing, health, immigration, Centrelink entitlements and domestic violence.

Our Community Development team resources and supports community groups and advocates with local decision-makers and elected officials on their behalf. The team achieves this through creating opportunities for residents and government agencies to work together to find solutions to local challenges.

We also auspice a number of community projects and groups that are independent but need governance support or insurance such as REDWatch, Cycle Re-Cycle, and one-off local projects.

What are the major challenges facing community centres?
Community centres are generally run by local people for the local community and act as an anchor for a diverse range of community projects, activities and services. They provide direct services and/or support for individuals, families, and community groups.

Our values are based on self-determination, empowerment, collaboration, equality and social justice for all, which can often lead to conflict with decision-makers. We seek changes to policy and practice where these do not serve the needs of many.

Community centres are often poorly and complexly funded, or the funding received is prescriptive and based on political motivations rather than actual needs and demands. This is a constant struggle. There is a worrying trend of “gag clauses” added to funding contracts, which we highly resist, as independent advocacy and support are more vital than ever in today’s society.

Also, we are concerned there is a lack of understanding on the part of successive governments as to the role that community centres play. Our services and expertise are often undervalued. Our facilities struggle to meet the demands of those who walk through our doors.

We are worried about funding preference given to larger organisations under the illusion that they are more effective, efficient and provide better value. This, in my experience, is rarely the case. Larger organisations often do not understand local needs. We are a grassroots organisation and have been part of the local community for decades, which means we are trusted by locals. Despite our credibility, we find that our funding is eroded.

On any given day our teams deal with requests for assistance in regards to basic plumbing, suspected child abuse, neighbour disputes, Centrelink claims, or access to specialised mental health or substance misuse services.

In addition to hosting workshops, community events, play groups, and writing submissions to government regarding latest reforms, we must ensure we meet all our compliance requirements. It takes tenacity, passion and commitment from both our staff and volunteers to effect real change. It can be hard work, but when your work results in someone feeling safer, supported, more confident or gaining new employment, new friends or finding resolutions to long standing issues, there is no better feeling in the world.

How can people get involved?
We host various weekly activities. Some are ethnic specific but most are welcoming to everyone. You can find out more about our services by subscribing to our monthly e-newsletter or following us on social media (Facebook). You are most welcome to visit for a chat with one of our staff.

The Factory Community Centre
67 Raglan Street, Waterloo NSW 2017
Phone 9698 9569

Counterpoint Multicultural Centre
73 Garden Street, Alexandria NSW 2015
Phone 9319 4073

info@counterpointcs.org.au

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