The City of Melbourne respectfully acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land we govern, the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung and Bunurong / Boon Wurrung peoples of the Kulin and pays respect to their Elders past and present. We acknowledge and honour the unbroken spiritual, cultural and political connection they have maintained to this unique place for more than 2000 generations.

We accept the invitation in the Uluru Statement from the Heart and are committed to walking together to build a better future.

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Banner image: Every Monday and Wednesday, volunteers help students from prep to year 12, like Husna (pictured), with their numeracy, literacy and school studies.

Like many long-running neighbourhood houses, Kensington Neighbourhood House dates back to the mid-70s, when seven women and a gaggle of kids gathered in a loungeroom to discuss how they could support each other.

At the time, one third of Kensington’s population lived in public housing and many families were low income and single parent. Not surprisingly, within a year the group had grown to 40 and the women applied for funding for a drop-in house.

Today, the house they established in McCracken Street is still the thriving hub of community activity it was 47 years ago.

“Maureen one of the founding women was still coming to the house every Wednesday until she passed away,” says manager, Rebecca Smith, as she gestures to an exuberant black and white photo, taken in 1976, of the seven founding women.

For Maureen, the flares and ciggies may have been replaced by a hot lunch and bingo session, but you can imagine that the sentiment and impact were just the same. This is still a diverse community of locals looking after each other; a house providing essential connection and support.

“At its best, a neighbourhood house is a place that can respond to the ever-changing needs of a community, as expressed by the community,” says Rebecca.

“It might be parents telling us they’re nervous about keeping their kids safe online, so we’ll run a cyber-security workshop, to seniors saying they feel isolated after lockdown so we’ll work out new ways to bring people together.”

Thriving Families, a recent program funded by the City of Melbourne through a Social Innovation and Partnerships Grant, came about as a response to mothers from the nearby public housing estate saying they were struggling to communicate and connect with their kids.

Elderly woman waving

Mavis never misses the lunch and bingo social group on Wednesdays. For many it’s an essential source of social contact and nutritious food each week.

Another new initiative to support the local refugee and migrant community is Green Time not Screen Time. The project, which is currently being pulled together by Community Development Specialist Esther Sadek with the support of a City of Melbourne Community Grant, will help families – who have been stuck in high-rise public housing through lockdown and quarantine to reconnect with nature and community. To do this, Esther will organise excursions conducted with local facilitators, Indigenous educators, and bi-cultural therapists.

“Our first excursion will be to Altona beach and will include some structured activities as well as just some time for families to play together and enjoy being outside together,” says Esther.

Throughout Melbourne’s six lockdowns Rebecca, Esther and the whole Kensington Neighbourhood House team worked as hard as ever to keep their community connected. While lockdowns were a pause on many of the classes, playgroups, and social groups that bring 1000 people through the door each year, new services were put in place while others went online.

“We created activity packs for kids to pick up, printed documents for community members who don’t have a printer, and had volunteers phone isolated community members as part of our Conversations Over the Front Fence program,” says Rebecca.

The house also runs a food share pantry, which must have been a crucial lifeline to many during lockdown. “Dozens of people head to the pantry on our front verandah every day to donate what they can or collect what they need,” says Rebecca.

And the most popular item, says Rebecca, is coffee. “It is inner-city Melbourne, after all!”

10 soul-boosting activities to keep you connected at Kensington Neighbourhood House

Kensington Neighbourhood House