More than two weeks have passed since Australia’s last confirmed coronavirus death. Restrictions are easing each week, children are back at school, cafes and restaurants are serving customers again, businesses are reopening and people are gradually returning to their place of work in some capacity. There is a sense of optimism about life going back to “normal”, however, we know for many people their circumstances have changed drastically in the past few months, the road to recovery will be long and the sense of anxiety and uncertainty about what the future will hold, remains.
For Neighbourhood and Community Centres in New South Wales (NSW) it has been a challenging, busy and reimagining time for the dedicated staff and volunteers who have been required to adapt and innovate the way in which they work to deliver programs and services to meet local needs and facilitate local opportunities.
Continuity of connection and care has meant providing information, support and advice by phone, email, social media and instant messaging services. Many programs and events were cancelled, however, classes for English, art, exercise and cooking, as well as social support groups and community meetings have reinvented themselves through video conferencing platforms, with great success.
Community organisations have formed new partnerships, systems and solutions in order to keep up with the high demand for food and material relief – assembling boxes of donated items, providing a centralised drop-off and collection point for sending out teams of people to deliver much-needed essentials to the front door of homes in the local area.
Checking on people’s material situation, physical health and mental wellbeing has been especially important for those members of the community who are particularly isolated, lonely and vulnerable; those escaping domestic and family violence, people with disability, the unemployed, those facing homelessness, the elderly and those dealing with chronic illness, mental ill-health, alcohol and drug addiction.
State and Federal Governments have provided welcome financial help to many people impacted by COVID-19, but as always with these measures, it is not quite enough, it doesn’t include everybody and it only gives relief for a short period of time. Neighbourhood and Community Centres are often left to fill the gaps in service provision, material assistance, social support, information, advice, resources and referrals during and after a crisis. We have seen this scenario play out many times in the past through bushfire disasters, drought, cyclone and flood emergencies that are becoming an all too common occurrence in Australia.
COVID-19 has highlighted the critical and essential work that Neighbourhood and Community Centre’s do through their experienced, professional and committed staff and volunteers – albeit with limited resources. Contributing to a strong, sustainable, social infrastructure, Neighbourhood and Community Centre’s have shown themselves to be agile and innovative during a crisis and an integral part of the long term recovery and development of communities after a crisis. It is therefore increasingly important that the Community Sector has a seat at the table with key decision-makers and policymakers in any future crisis planning, management and recovery coordination and funding strategy moving forward.
With the scaling back of physical distancing and financial help, there is talk of a second wave – the potential wave of COVID-19 infections going back up again as human interactions increase and the wave of financial, mental, physical and emotional problems that may reveal itself in the months ahead as extra cash payments stop and the impact of the pandemic takes its toll on people’s lives.
Whatever the coming weeks and months look like, Neighbourhood and Community Centres will be there in the heart of towns and cities to provide a safe and inclusive space for people to meet again and continue to build meaningful connections through participation in community programs and projects, reducing social isolation and contributing greatly to people’s health and wellbeing.
Article by Local Community Services Association (LCSA)