The City of Greater Bendigo, Vic
Approximate population 116,000. 7% overseas born. 1.7% Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
The ‘Help Your Neighbour’ campaign is a community led response to help vulnerable people during the Covid-19 pandemic.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, staff at The City of Greater Bendigo and Bendigo Foodshare saw an increase in ‘unkind’ behaviours, such as grocery hoarding. This meant that individuals and organisations providing food relief were not able to buy an adequate amount of food and as such the most vulnerable people in the community were hit the hardest.
‘Help Your Neighbour’ builds community resilience to disasters by building and strengthening social cohesion. The campaign has three main goals:
- To educate and encourage the community to look out for each other, especially vulnerable groups.
- To share information and resources about where people can go for help.
- To share the good news stories from the community and provide hope and inspiration.
Social Media Channel
The online platform, run through Facebook, has a specific neighbourhood focus and is pivotal to the success of the program. With an emphasis on promoting kind behaviour and providing support, the engagement and reach of this platform is growing. The page is supported by radio advertising with commercial and community radio stations. From this secondary neighbourhood Facebook pages have evolved.
The City of Bendigo recruited a network of volunteers to be Volunteer Neighbourhood Co-ordinators (VNC’s). Their role is to reach out to people and link them to support as needed. Some volunteers were already networked within the community, such as community centre co-ordinators and community leaders. Others were recruited through a volunteer drive co-ordinated by Bendigo Foodshare while they were recruiting an army of volunteers to continue their essential service. These volunteers are from a diverse range of experiences, ages and backgrounds.
The VNC’s developed different techniques such as phone trees and letter box postcards to touch base with their communities, which include local businesses, transient communities, and residents. Since inception there has been an immediate connection of vulnerable people to support services. For example, two very ill single mothers with young children and no support network were provided food and support through Foodshare and the community centre.
Who is using this support?
The City of Greater Bendigo has a large number of international students, multicultural communities, and transient seasonal workers. ‘Help Your Neighbour’ VNC’s are connecting with other community leaders including the established Community International Ambassadors to connect these people to support and services. Groups that have been helped include those members of the Filipino community whose job security is uncertain, migrant workers who are living in makeshift accommodation, and students whose incomes have stopped.
Social cohesion is recognised as being one of, possibly the most significant, determinants in a community resilience and disaster resilience. While it is still early in the COVID 19 pandemic, the ‘Help Your Neighbour’ stakeholders can already see an opportunity for this to evolve into a permanent community network structure which continues to build social cohesion into the future. This is an evolving program in response to an unprecedented situation and therefore the program is changing rapidly and implementation is flexible. One of the challenges is overcoming the Australian reticence to accept or ask for help. As more people who have not needed support before find themselves in need, one focus is on developing messaging and promoting the idea that “It’s your turn” which encourages people who would benefit from help to ask and accept.
The common message is that people are feeling more connected to their neighbours and that the community is developing more connectivity and cohesion.
An existing program ‘Connect’, an interactive online platform connecting people to local community groups has joined the partnership. In addition to the City of Greater Bendigo, Connect and Bendigo Foodshare, other stakeholders are Haven Home Safe, Fosterville Gold Mine, Bendigo Cleaning Company and Bendigo Community Health Services.
Links and resources
David Williamson, Co-ordinator Inclusive Communities
Vanessa Wiltshire Help Your Neighbour Campaign Coordinator (temp)
Bridget Bentley, Bendigo Foodshare Manager