Support boost for Neighbourhood Houses

North Dandenong Neighbourhood House teacher Bibi Mosavi conducts an English language class. 407998_03 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

by Sahar Foladi

Greater Dandenong Council is set to provide $350,000 in annual operational funding for seven neighbourhood houses and community centres.

The Neighbourhood Houses and Community Centres (NHCC) project brief was passed at a council meeting on Monday 13 May.

Under the agreement $50,000 is allocated to each of the seven NHCCs to help them continue their community connection and participation services throughout Greater Dandenong.

Salma Ahmadi, project coordinator, says the news is an acknowledgment of the special role that neighbourhood houses play in individuals’ lives, just within a walking distance from residents.

“Since Covid, a lot of residents that live in Dandenong North area were very isolated and lonely, we have a very diverse community here.

“We have a lot of public housing residents that live around here, who mainly live alone with no family or friends to keep in touch with, so the house is like a family to them.”

According to the report, the agreement commences initially for two years from 2024-’25 followed by a review and a three-year agreement depending on the review outcomes.

The change to operational funding rather than project funding will add financial security at the houses.

A second home to many from all ages, backgrounds, abilities, and interests, all gather under one roof through a range of activities and programs.

Melanie Virtue manager of the Springvale Neighbourhood House, said she’s very happy at the news given the importance of social and service accessibility classes for residents in the area.

“North Dandenong is an area that’s got high social and economic needs in the population.

“Some people live by themselves, and the house is a reason for them to leave the house, for some it could be the only place they hear someone say their name during the week.”

The 2022-23 annual report depict 168 visits every week and 6720 people using the services annually with weekly jam-packed classes from sewing classes to multiple social classes and exercise classes.

Residents can access the classes and much more all within a fee as low as $50 for the entire year to ensure efficient support are provided to newcomers and the program remains accessible for low-income residents.

One of the newest neighbourhood houses, the North Dandenong house will pay a peppercorn rent to the council – which aligns with the rental arrangements for the other four neighbourhood houses in Greater Dandenong.

Ms Virue said the peppercorn arrangement, being a very low or nominal rent, will help filter more funds to other projects.

“Prior to this we received the community higher rate of rent $29 an hour. Out of the fund we got from the council we paid half of it back in rent.

“So not having to pay that money to council now means we have more money to run programs and be open for longer.”

In a two-week data collection report from November-December 2023, the North Dandenong house shows 74 per cent of supported participants were female, majority being Afghan, Anglo-Australian and Chinese.

According to the data, in the two-week span, the Arabic Seniors Social Group had the highest attendance of 32 followed by Women’s Friendship Café 29 and Afghan Seniors Social Group 28 along with a Foodbank service.

The NDNH is focused to attain the lead tenancy of the entire Deakin Hall building, a council owned facility, for a whole year but don’t quite have their “foot in the door yet” Ms Ahmadi said.

If successful, it will unlock a computer room, massive hall and reception area which will increase their capacity for increased social classes.