Neighbourhood Houses think big

At the Annual Association for Neighbourhood Houses and Learning Centres (ANHLC) Conference held in Geelong, Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley spoke about the Emergency Management Victoria ribbon – what it means and what it represents.

“The three colours within the ribbon represent the time before, during and after an emergency – the yellow is for knowledge, the red is for response and the blue is for renewal,” he said.

“Ten years ago the word ‘‘fire’’ would have been in there somewhere but emergency management is changing and it’s not just about response or fire anymore.

“It’s about all hazards and it’s about communities, government, agencies and business working as one.”

The Commissioner said it was only through this collaboration that we could collectively achieve a sustainable and efficient emergency management system and a vision for safer and more resilient communities.

“While we need to support and link communities with agencies and government, we also need to ensure that communities are the drivers of resilience,” Craig said.

“What Neighbourhood Houses do every day is build resilience and that is why they are a trusted network within the emergency management sector.

“Agencies and government need to link in with these trusted and established networks to really engage effectively with communities. We need to value and promote local knowledge building and strengthen what already exists in communities.”

Presentations from across Victoria were shared with over 220 conference delegates. They demonstrated how communities are choosing to work through their local Neighbourhood Houses and networks to become more disaster resilient

Emerald Community House Out-of-school Hours and Childcare Program

Emerald Community House is just one example of Neighbourhood Houses ‘thinking big.’

In partnership with CFA’s Eastern Metropolitan Region and Emerald Fire Brigade, the community house was recognised as a state leader in community fire safety and engagement as a winner at last year’s Fire Awareness Awards. The group took home both the Community Preparedness Award and the esteemed $10,000 RACV Insurance Award for Excellence – adding to their three previous Fire Awareness Awards received since 2010.

The two latest awards were in recognition of the Emerald Community House initiative which required childcare parents to attend CFA Bushfire Planning Workshops as a condition of enrolment.

“The dominant factor in providing childcare in this environment is that parents are likely to be out of the area while their children are in care,” House Coordinator and Director of the Centre of Resilience strategic model Mary Farrow said.

“This is a significant responsibility for childcare providers and is a prime driver for  leveraging the popularity of our service to increase the resilience and awareness of  our parents, families and their extended contacts.

Our parents are required to attend a CFA Bushfire Planning Workshop as their shared responsibility when choosing to live and raise a family in a high risk environment. It is our obligation as a community group and a business – funded to support community development – to play a progressive role as encouraged by the COAG National Strategy for Disaster Resilience.”

Association for Neighbourhood Houses and Learning Centres (ANHLC) President, Beth Davidson, said that while houses and centres were set up to service their own communities, there was a need for them to have a “big view.”

“It is possible for neighbourhood houses to play in a big space and Emerald Community House is just one example of that,” she said.

East Gippsland Network of Neighbourhood Houses Building Community Resilience project

It is a similar story over in East Gippsland where four houses have teamed up to better protect and connect the residents of Benambra, Buchan, Bruthen, Tubbut and the Bonang-Goongerah area, Orbost and Nowa Nowa during times of emergency.

“It’s in our hands” was the title of a presentation given by the East Gippsland Network of Neighbourhood Houses at the ANHLC Conference in May, representing a shared vision to build safer and more resilient communities.

Deb Foskey from the Tubbut Neighbourhood House said the initiatives built out of the East Gippsland Building Community Resilience project had stemmed from the Goongerah-Deddick Trail fires of 2014.

“We’d been through fires before but the same mistakes were happening. We were thinking how can this be happening again?” Deb said.

“What it came down to was poor communication and poor community engagement.

“We wanted to change this and play a role in emergency management – before, in building community resilience, during, through building excellent communication systems and after during the long recovery process.”

With the assistance of funding from Regional Development Victoria’s Resilience, these six communities and the Centre for Rural Communities (CRC) were able to come together to share lessons learned and develop strategies to mitigate risk, improve communication and be more confident in future emergency situations.

Evelyn Schmidt from Buchan Neighbourhood House highlighted the need for these communities to connect, drawing on her experiences from the Orbost Complex fire of February 2014.

“Buchan and Orbost are more than 40 kilometres apart but from Buchan we could clearly see the smoke from Orbost and realised we would also be affected by this fire,” Evelyn said.

“While what we do in our individual communities will be different and will be adapted to suit local needs and people, there is a need for us to also join up and coordinate.”

Both the Nowa Nowa and Bruthen houses also helped to build upon and improve systems within their communities.

This included the updating of a community emergency plan with more local knowledge and input.

Barwon Network of Neighbourhood Centres ‘SPARC’ project

Through a project aimed to help communities become more disaster resilient, the Barwon Network of Neighbourhood Houses has also developed locally tailored tools and resources.

The Strengthening Participation and Resilience in Communities (SPARC) project involved eight communities being Anglesea, Barwon Downs, Deans Marsh, Forrest, Gellibrand, Kawarren, Lavers Hill and Lorne. They are all within the Surf Coast Shire and Otway Ranges.

Six neighbourhood houses partnered with other locally relevant agencies and organisations, representing a collaborative approach to emergency planning and response.

“As a result we saw community projects financed in eight high risk townships, more than 400 people engaged, over 25 community engagement activities including community conversations, events and new Community Fire Guard groups established,” said Barwon Neighbourhood House Networker Christine Brooks.

“We had cemented relationships between Neighbourhood Houses and other local agencies and groups, increased general fire knowledge and awareness in communities and identified future community fire preparedness projects.”

The project also helped to find gaps and areas for improvement for neighbourhood houses and saw the development of the ‘Don’t Panic’ resource – an emergency management planning kit for neighbourhood houses.

Again, an example of locally-based neighbourhood houses or networks thinking big as the resource has now been developed into a template and reprinted for all houses across the state.

ANHLC Fire Safety and Computer Resources

Last year, peak body ANHLC was also named a winner in the Fire Awareness Awards, taking home the RACV Fire Safety Education Award.

This was in recognition of their Fire Safety and Computer Resources program which was developed and delivered in partnership with CFA.

As part of the program, ANHLC was able to promote key fire safety information by incorporating it into existing computer classes. This project was based on a 2013 survey of neighbourhood houses that found 78 per cent of houses were delivering computer training and digital literacy.

The program recognised that a range of fire preparedness information and resources were already available on the internet but not accessed. It made this information and resources core content for neighbourhood house computer classes, which are widely attended across the state.

“Teachers are often looking for their own teaching materials and welcomed readymade lesson plans and activities,” ANHLC sector development manager Clare Corbet said.

“This is also an opportunity to pass on fire safety information in an interactive way, using good practice adult learning strategies.”

Clare said many neighbourhood house participants fall into groups which may be harder to reach via traditional awareness campaigns.

She said survey results have found that neighbourhood houses were effectively engaging with people who are ‘at risk’ of social isolation, including people with disability, the elderly and those from CALD backgrounds.