Local neighbourhood centres must be treated as basic public infrastructure rather than having to fight for short-term contracts and donations to survive, the Local Community Services Association (LCSA) says.
As the Mullumbimby District Neighbourhood Centre was saying a sad farewell to its only paid administrative assistant because of funding difficulties late last year, the LCSA released a policy platform calling for wholesale changes to the way such centres are viewed and funded.
The policy states that the centres should be viewed as essential ‘social infrastructure’.
‘No-one argues with the fact that you need good schools to have a decent education system, or that you need decent hospitals to have a decent health system,’ the head of the LCSA, Can Yasmut told The Echo.
‘What we’re saying is that it’s the same for neighbourhood centres – you need good neighbourhood centres for healthy communities.
‘So we think they should receive core funding in the same way that other social infrastructure does.’
Currently neighbourhood centres such as those in Mullumbimby and Byron rely heavily on short-term funding attached to particular programs.
The Mullumbimby District Neighbourhood Centre is all too familiar with the precarious nature of this situation. It was forced to let its only paid administrative assistant go three weeks ago because her position wasn’t funded.
‘We found that the only way to operate within our means was to reduce the cost of our human resources,’ centre manager Julie Williams said.
‘It means that other staff have to pick up the slack and that means increased workload, increased stress, and taking them away from the other work they’re doing with the community.’
Many of the key positions at the neighbourhood centre, including Ms Williams’s role, are not formally funded. Their wages come from independent income, which includes donations, revenue from room hire and other fundraising activities – none of which can be counted on from one month to the next.
‘We’re in a perpetual state of being at risk, but we still manage to do amazing work in the community,’ Ms Williams said.
‘Imagine if we had enough money not to worry about how we’re going to keep the doors open, and if the energy that went into that were put into community development and early intervention.’
Ms Williams said she believed each of the local candidates for the upcoming state election had a responsibility to ‘understand what neighbourhood centres actually do and the role they play in helping vulnerable members of the community’.
‘I’d like to invite all candidates to come over and have a look at what we do and have a look at what can be achieved if there were some core funding for administration and