Friends for good health

Jolene Stewart and Liseby Lapierre enjoy a coffee at the WASEMA friendship cafe in Endeavour Hills. 199445_03 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Loneliness is the new health hazard.

And so, women’s friendship cafes have sprung up as the cure.

Women’s Association South East Melbourne Australia (WASEMA) has partnered with five community hubs to form five cafes in Springvale, Dandenong, Endeavour Hills, Dandenong North and Cockatoo.

The aim is for safe and friendly women’s spaces – just like a Men’s Shed is for guys, says WASEMA spokesperson Elaine Smith.

They welcome all ages, cultures and abilities with members seeking work, study, training or other help.

The program helps new arrivals and long-time residents who feel “out of place” in the new growing suburbs, Ms Smith says.

“The connections we make give us a new lease of life.

“We don’t have to be alone at home feeling unsure, one morning each week we can spend happy time with others, and gain ideas about what steps we want to take.

“Soon we will be saying hello to people we know at the shops, school gate, bus stop and then realise we belong in a neighbourhood.”

Dalal Smiley, chief executive of Wellsprings for Women, said research showed that being socially isolated is as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The cafes help address the prevalent mental health issues facing nearly one in five women, such as anxiety, depression and mood disorders, Ms Smiley said.

“Social networks and friendships not only have an impact on reducing the risk of mortality or developing certain diseases, but they also help individuals to recover when they do fall ill.”

Ms Smiley said the cafes were designed to bring women together in activities of their choice.

“It will certainly help lots of women just looking for a friend, a connection in an informal, relaxed and welcoming environment.”

A friendship cafe member, who saw herself as the oldest there, said she’d forged friendships across all ages and cultures.

“Some mornings I don’t want to get up, but I put on some clothes and go – and then I really know why I came.

“We talk about everything, we laugh, we cry, we tell stories. The little kids play while the women really connect.”

The program was funded by the Federal Government’s Department of Social Services.

The cafes are at Springvale Neighbourhood House on Tuesdays 9.30am-12pm, Endeavour Hills Neighbourhood Centre on Tuesdays 9.30am-12pm, North Dandenong Neighbourhood House on Wednesdays 9.30am-12pm and Wellsprings for Women on Thursdays 9.30am-12pm.


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