New threat for centres

NEIGHBOURHOOD centres are under further threat because of government cutbacks and reforms.

The centres recently lost a rental subsidy and will soon have to compete for funding against private operators hoping to move into the community support sector, says Jane Chilcott from Linkwest, the peak body for neighbourhood and community centres.

Ms Chilcott describes the changes as the most “acute funding crisis” the sector has faced in its 40 years.

“The state government’s Department of Local Government and Communities is cutting funding by up to 30 per cent and implementing misguided reforms which favour large contractors and will effectively dismantle the neighbourhood centre sector,” Ms Chilcott said.

She says 50 of the state’s 180 centres face closure.

“While neighbourhood centres do offer some intervention and crisis management services, they operate primarily in a preventative space by giving local people a place to belong.

“They build on what is strong, not what is wrong in neighbourhoods across WA.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and so Linkwest would argue that instead of cutting funding, there should be a bigger investment in these local place-based services that build community.”

Heather Thorne is a Nordic walking instructor at the Ottey community centre and says she sees the hidden benefits through her group, which has about 20 members and meets once a week.

“In addition to the exercise it’s provided a valuable opportunity for social interaction,” Ms Thorne says.

“People have become friends and they support each other through the personal challenges in their lives.”

She says her walkers also connect each week with a group of people with disabilities who provide morning tea, giving them the opportunity to make stronger community connections.

“People don’t realise the extent of social isolation; it’s a big issue in our community and it’s a hidden thing,” Ms Thorne says.

“It’s documented that social isolation increases the risk of depression and dementia.

“There a lot of lonely, isolated people out there—not just older people—and this is where they can come for a cup of tea or some exercise.”

A spokesperson from the department said the decision to pull out of rental subsidies was made by the previous Barnett government and it had been working with centres to manage the transition.

Three existing programs had been merged into the Supporting Communities Program, although funding would be maintained at $9.4 million.

“An open tender process will provide fair and equitable access to government supply opportunities to ensure the best outcomes are achieved for the community,” the department said.

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