News for nerds

Leaders of Victoria’s neighbourhood houses have welcomed a state government’s funding announcement but some say it isn’t enough to cope with rising staff wages and running costs.

Disability, Ageing and Carers minister Colin Brooks announced on Thursday, $6.6 million in ongoing annual funding and $19 million in additional funding over the next three years for neighbourhood houses across the state.

It comes after a public campaign highlighted fears that around half of Victoria’s nearly 400 neighbourhood houses would have to close once their current funding expired in June 2024.

Neighbourhood Houses Victoria treasurer Vicki Coltman said the “power of the people” achieved the positive funding outcome.

“We are across every community and we have grassroots support behind us,” Ms Coltman said.

Neighbourhood houses encourage community connection and cohesion, offering a safe space for people to come together, access services, support, recreation and learning opportunities.

The hubs provide childcare, employment, education, training and volunteering and community services like food relief during emergencies.

Many served as testing or vaccination sites, distributed personal protective equipment and provided advice during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Brooks said Victoria’s neighbourhood houses could feel rest assured the new funding commitment was ongoing and built into the budget.

“They have been asking for funding certainty and we are pleased to deliver just that,” he said.

Centres celebrate
Marong Neighbourhood House coordinator Janine Cornish said she and her colleagues were relieved to hear their jobs were secure and they could now plan for future service delivery.

She said they would be able to consider long-term initiatives, like providing community transport options for the ageing community in the semi-rural town west of Bendigo.

The centre was one of 27 neighbourhood houses that received government funding for the first time after a 2018 boost in investment in the sector.

Acting president of the Neighbourhood House in Riddells Creek, near Gisborne, Nicole Rowan said they could now scrap their current three-month budget for a full-year plan.

They said the new funding would also help the team take steps towards developing a social enterprise for the community.

Charlton Neighbourhood House opened its doors in 2019 and president Kaylene Cossar said its positive contribution was clear.

“We actually had a client come in last week and say the neighbourhood house is the best thing that happened to Charlton because of the range of services and support we can offer,” she said.

“So we think it would’ve been devastating to lose it.”

The centre in the small rural town north-west of Bendigo is planning to provide support for carers, advocate for childcare services and create new tourism drawcards to boost economic activity.

Meanwhile, the new Ballarat East Neighbourhood House, which currently runs out of office spaces, will now have the certainty to move forward with a search for a permanent home.

Funding shortfalls
While the funding announcement has been widely celebrated, some neighbourhood house leaders say their advocacy must continue to meet their rapidly growing communities’ needs.

In Riddells Creek, Nicole Rowan said staff wages and running costs were increasing, but state government funding had not been boosted to match.

“That is something we will continue to advocate for through Neighbourhood Houses Victoria,” they said.

Ms Coltman is based in Ballarat and described the city as a massive growth zone that will likely need another new neighbourhood house in the next four years.

Opposition disability, carers and seniors spokesman Tim Bull said the Victorian government’s commitment had fallen short.

The Victorian Liberals and Nationals committed in August to providing recurrent additional funding of $5.4 million if it formed government after the November state election.

This is in comparison to Labor’s three-year time limit on additional funding which equates to about $6.3 million for the next three years.

“Neighbourhood houses have made it clear they want certainty with funding to establish long-term programs and employment security for staff, but with only a three-year commitment from Labor it is impossible to do this,” Mr Bull said in a statement.