Mirrabooka-based Sudbury Community House, in Perth, has an innovative new empowering program to encourage public contributions and engagement.
Budding entrepreneurs, local firms, socially-minded people and those skilled in arts and crafts such as cookery and embroidery will have a role to play in the new five-year Empowering Communities Program in Sudbury House.
Virginia Aden, Chief Executive, says the new initiatives take a holistic approach that can lead to successful treatment of mental health issues, alcoholism, drug dependence, crime and domestic violence.
“It’s about humanising people who need help the most,” she says. “We are trying to move away from a deficit model of poverty and helplessness. We want to empower people to have a strength-based approach to make them respect and believe that every individual is more than capable of contributing to their own development and wellbeing and that they have the solutions to their problems. Sudbury House just needs to offer support.”
Already, a student from Perth Modern School is utilising modernised kitchens at Sudbury House to prepare edible cutlery as part of a project targeting mental ill-health.
Ms Aden is excited by the developments happening so early in the life of the program, which launched in July this year.
“Just seven per cent of our running costs at Sudbury House come from public funds,” says Ms Aden who revitalised the 33-year-old facility after her arrival in 2011. “Seventy per cent of our clientele are refugees and migrants. When they arrive, they already have been traumatised in refugee camps.”
Sudbury House's main source of income is a modern early learning centre run by qualified staff catering for infants from six weeks of age to six years. Revenue generated by the facility's Learning and Development Centre pays for open-door services that include the drop-in centre, support groups and an information and referral hub.
Yet it is not enough to meet demand for services that Sudbury House provides as an organisation in the not-for-profit sector.
To rectify that scenario, the centre successfully applied for funding from the Department of Communities’ Empowering Communities Program, and received $1.5 million for distribution over the next five years to 2024. Funds will:
· Stage year-round activities in The Mirrabooka Square, to raise awareness of partner organisations and demonstrate the community’s self-belief.
· Act as an incubator for small groups to meet in safety to discuss day-to-day needs, supported by mentoring, coaching, computers and photocopying.
· Hold annual workshops to share community ideas about evolving needs. Some will be developed into programs, supported by partner organisations.
· Tackle unemployment by registering local skills such as cooking, artwork, craftwork, dance and music; then look at micro finance and social enterprise.
· Offer grants to five community members to help plan and implement poorly resourced grass roots projects and ideas affecting streets and suburbs, with a view to raising finance.
Ms Aden says Sudbury House demonstrates that problems are manageable by collective action. “Let’s start a conversation that leads our people to their own solutions, giving them a solid base from where they can flourish and grow into their place in the community. We can literally give power back to these people,” she says.
“Our Sudbury family includes people of Aboriginal descent with whom a strong relationship has been respectfully built through their Elders.”
Ms Aden said program outcomes would be measured against impact, not attendance in hope to address two critical questions – have we changed anyone’s life and are they any better off?
Ms Aden oversaw the transformation of Sudbury House from a single room drop-in centre with a childcare annexe on the verge of closure in 2011 to a thriving community hub whose presence is so important to many. Ms Aden has worked with the peak body, Linkwest, and the Department of Communities (formerly known as Department of Local Government and Communities) to see SCH take shape as a multi-purpose facility renowned for a welcoming atmosphere.