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Neighbourhood centre enters into 40s

NEWTOWN: At the end of 2017 Newtown Neighbourhood Centre (NNC) celebrated its 40th anniversary in style, with passionate speeches, fun displays of old photos and posters and Sydneyvision song clips, and a touch of 70s fashion and sparkle!

A touch of 70s fashion and sparkle at NNC. Photos: Andrew Collis
A touch of 70s fashion and sparkle at NNC. Photos: Andrew Collis

It was a privilege to hear from people like Vivi Koutsounadis, who played a key role in setting up NNC as one of the first Neighbourhood Centres, as well as John Butcher, who was the very first co-ordinator in 1977. It was great to also welcome back Lisa Burns, the previous CEO, who was instrumental in the beginnings of the centre’s work in boarding houses and homelessness.

Vivi Koutsounadis (right)  Photo: Andrew Collis

Vivi Koutsounadis (right) Photo: Andrew Collis

Newtown Neighbourhood Centre opened in the 70s – an exciting era when many social services and community action groups were established. In those days Newtown had many newly arrived migrants from places like Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Latin America, Turkey and Portugal, many of whom were facing understandable struggles. The centre provided a crucial place for community connection and support.

John Butcher  Photo: Andrew Collis

John Butcher Photo: Andrew Collis

Over the years the centre has continued to run programs for people from the Greek speaking community and the former Yugoslavia. Various programs and services have started and stopped over the years as the centre has tried to stay relevant and connected to the changing demographics and issues in the local community.

Lisa Burns  Photo: Andrew Collis

Lisa Burns Photo: Andrew Collis

In recent years, the centre has played a key role in facilitating community action around issues like affordable housing, homelessness, protecting the “Newtown vibe” (the character of Newtown – diverse, accepting, eclectic, welcoming), and advocating for disability access at Newtown train station when it was renovated.

Just one year behind the centre is Newtown Festival, which began 39 years ago with a couple of bands playing under the trees in Camperdown Memorial Rest Park. It has grown into the jam-packed all-day event that recognises the artistic and quirky nature of the Newtown community and is the centre’s major fundraiser. So in 2018 we are excited about presenting a special Newtown Festival which celebrates its incredible longevity as one of Sydney’s most loved festivals. We are hoping there might even be a visit from some of those early local bands who went on to achieve huge success!

As we have done over many years, in 2018 we want to continue to do the work that is core to who we are as a neighbourhood centre, while also adding some new elements. We will continue to facilitate the Newtown Vibe Roundtable, which regularly brings together local councils, police, venues, businesses and community groups to discuss any issues which are threatening the Newtown vibe, and importantly how we can work together to keep protecting it. This forum enables exchange of ideas, initiatives and concerns. We monitor trends around any incidents happening in the area – for example at our last meeting in 2017 we discussed the mural attacks carried out around the marriage equality postal survey and how we would choose to respond to these attacks.

We are continuing to grow our work in homelessness thanks to the support of the community through fundraising and events like Newtown Festival. In 2017 we held our first sleepout – “Our Newtopian Dream” – to raise funds and awareness around homelessness, something we plan to repeat in 2018. Since then we have commenced a regular outreach program aiming to eliminate rough sleeping in Newtown and ensure everyone is on a pathway to safe, secure housing.

We facilitate a group of representatives from local agencies including Inner West Council, Sydney Local Health District, FaCS Housing, Mission Australia and NSW Police, who join forces to reach out to the local homeless population and offer face-to-face assistance. We believe it is only by working together that we have the best chance of making a real impact on homelessness in our neighbourhood.

During only three outreaches late last year, we engaged with 20 people sleeping rough who were very willing to receive assistance.

We are now about to launch a community homelessness volunteer network, so that we can recruit local community members who want to learn more about homelessness beyond feeling guilty, powerless, or putting a gold coin in a hat. Our goal is to strengthen our community’s capacity to be part of the solution to homelessness. We want people to feel more confident in knowing how they might be able to engage and assist someone if they come across them on the street.

Addressing this growing problem will also require continued advocacy given the systemic issues which contribute to homelessness – like a lack of social and affordable housing!

While we may not be able to fix the big picture problem quickly, there are ways we can ease the burden for people who are doing it most tough.

Like many non-profit organisations our programs are funded by a combination of sources including grants and fundraising. New initiatives such as this outreach program and volunteer network are not currently government funded and are made possible through fundraising and philanthropic grants. We will be continuing to seek the support of the local community to enable local initiatives to tackle homelessness and advocate for affordable housing.

For NNC to continue to survive and thrive over its next 40 years, we will need to keep working hard at ensuring we remain relevant to the needs and issues that our community is grappling with. We will continue to focus on those doing it most tough, particularly people at risk of social isolation and homelessness, as we have always done. We will continue to celebrate and treasure this precious, quirky Newtown vibe and do all we can to protect it in the midst of the inevitable change that will occur.



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Liz Yeo is the CEO of the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre.

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