Our community in Surry Hills is full of colour at the moment for World Pride celebrations which started last week and continue for two weeks. There is so much going on including talks, art and stalls to help us connect with the LGBTQI community. The Clock has created a cheeky “Garden of Adam and Steve” space (pictured) where people can connect and share a beverage outdoors.
Surry Hills has always been a safe space for the LGBTQI community and we want to continue to make it so.
Churches are increasingly becoming places that want to welcome this community. Paddington Uniting church has a sign currently at the front of their building saying “Happy World Pride. This church celebrates you as altogether beautiful”
Pitt St Uniting Church has a marvellous photo exhibition currently showing.
“This exhibition is also a pilot campaign project celebrating the resilience and flourishing of LGBTIQA+ people and communities of faith and spirituality, and their allies, who despite prejudice, persecution, violence and discrimination are shining their light for a better world.”
Hopefully you get a chance to check out some of the activities in the inner-city and especially in Surry Hills!
We bought a painting several years ago by local artist Irena Dobrijevich-Hatfield of a painting she did of Northcott which is a public housing block very near where we lived. The story goes that Karina took a photo of the building one day when the sun was setting from the balcony. There was a spectacular sunset.
Irena saw this photo that we posted on social media and decided to paint it. We were thrilled by that and bought the painting. However when we moved to a another unit nearby we decided that we wanted to do something special with the painting. So we asked if the Department of Community and Justice Housing in Surry Hills next to Northcott wanted to exhibit it in their office. They did!
So now the beautiful work hangs in the Surry Hills office for all to see. We love making these connections and friendships locally and hope that the photo brings a smile to many people’s faces who walk into the building.
Neighbourhood Matters is a founding member of the Surry Hills Network. This is a newly formed monthly gathering. The Network exists to help bring community organisations and service providers together to connect locally, opening up communications, collaboration and connections with one other. The agency includes such diverse groups as St Vincent de Paul, Northcott Public Housing Estate, Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre, Oz Harvest, The Salvation Army, Mission Australia, Wesley Mission, Surry Hills police, Belvoir Street Theatre and City of Sydney.
The Network brings organisations together to discuss housing and food insecurity in the inner city, especially in Surry Hills. Covid highlighted some underlying issues and challenges in this area, so we wanted to bring together local organisations to work together to address these. The concept is simple: sitting in a room with like-minded people, sharing information and finding opportunities for collaboration which helps reduce replication and bring about better outcomes for the community.
“It’s great to be in room together with so many organisations that are on the ground dealing with the everyday real issues facing the most vulnerable members of our community. We are currently thinking through ways we can work together with other similar networks and share resources. We look forward to seeing new partnerships develop for the flourishing of our community.”
It’s often when there is a new proposal made for the improvement of a neighbourhood that the various different stakeholders with different interests emerge and potential conflicts can eventuate.
In our neighbourhood there is a proposal being put forward to the community for the improvement of our main street. But what can be seen as an improvement by some is seen by others as a problem.
The proposal is for more public access to the street for outdoor dining, cycling and also widening footpaths. The idea is for more alfresco dining. It sounds like a good idea.
Yesterday there was a consultation held at the local Neighbourhood Centre which Neighbourhood Matters attended. People, especially local businesses, were invited to participate. Many of the local businesses felt that the street improvements would affect their businesses adversely. Some said they were still recovering from Covid and all the recent rain and that works on the main street might make customers stay away making it an even more difficult season for businesses. They also said that the widening of the street would affect parking and therefore limit the amount of customers coming to their stores.
The gathering became slightly heated at some stages but in the end people had their voices heard. Hopefully council can take the feedback and decide on what are the next steps.
What I thought was excellent is council engaging in community consultation before starting the works. No matter how well we think we know a community there are always voices that are unheard and as a result consultation is key to making sure that all voices are heard in a community. Importantly it also is crucial for those making a proposal to change that proposal if a community is against it. It’s not easy balancing all the needs of a community. In this example, we had to listen to locals, cafes and businesses to get the best outcome for everyone.
What proposals for community improvement have been put forward in your neighbourhood? Was there conflict among different interest groups? How was that resolved? Were different voices heard and respected?
Surry Hills Community cafe is held at the Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre and is headed up by Stephen Lunny Community Programs director there. It is held every Friday from 10.30pm to 2 pm.
Stephen says “The team are all volunteers that lovingly prepare the food and serve the community. The atmosphere is upbeat and a lot of fun we hope the experience provides an uplifting and heartwarming moment in everyone’s day. The Surry Hills Community Café is indeed so much more than just a café.”
Stephen explains that there are various services offered for those that need assistance or simply want to connect with the services . He says “It’s also a fortnightly Hair Salon providing $10 haircuts for those who need it. Andrew Harris, our talented cutter, is a welcome addition to the Friday team. Teik Lim-, our Justice of the Peace, is onsite at every Café’ between 12.30 and 1.30pm.”
“There’s a creative table project at one end of the room. At present the team are working on a patchwork quilt. And they are also re- purposing street flag signage and making them into re-usable shopping bags. There are also other projects in the pipeline. Creative Paper work and an aboriginal art class to mention a couple.”
The space also provides good Wi Fi and a couple of Laptops are available for those who want to surf the web or create a document. One on one computer support is also available for those who want help answering a computer or smart phone question.
Stephen says “Then there’s the café. With indoor and outdoor seating on our lovely first floor premises, the café offers community an opportunity connect, relax, laugh and enjoy the offerings on the menu. We provide no charge and low charge options so that everyone can come regardless of their situation. Everyone is welcome. And with options like Raisin Toast, Pain au Chocolat, Devonshire Tea, Tasty Quiches and our famous Flourless Mandarin Cake on offer, it’s tempting to come every week.”
Indeed it is. It is so good to see these kinds of spaces opening up in neighbourhoods. These are places that people can connect, receive friendship, eat , laugh and engage in much needed services. Where are these spaces in your neighbourhood?
Last week Neighbourhood Matters was at the Sydney Alliance convention. We started up a Sydney Alliance Surry Hills group during the start of the pandemic and together held a storytelling event in our neighbourhood where various people shared about their experiences of Covid. Since then we have kept n touch and continued listening to our neighbourhood to see which voices are not being heard and whether we can join with others in community organising for the common good.
The convention was encouraging in that we could see that there are so many groups across Sydney that are working together for change in their communities. There is power in people getting together to bring about change to systems that need it.
We were part of a discussion group at the convention that was discussing housing affordability. People in the group ranged in ages and also represented different organisations. Each person shared that Covid has made the housing crisis worse and that rising house prices in Sydney means that young people don’t feel they will ever be able to afford a home in this city.
In the convention we:
– Shifted from reacting through the crises of the last two years, to taking proactive steps on our agenda,
– Brought together a diverse agenda through stories of our connected struggles: Walking with First Nations, A City of Dignity, Climate Justice, and Democracy and Belonging,
– Reconnected with each other through the power of stories, recording hundreds of them to start our story map,
– Endorsed the Alliance strategy through a thick stack of commitments made by organisations and individuals,
– Celebrated a milestone for Voices for Power, saying farewell to Thuy and welcoming new organisers.
Neighbourhood Matters was glad to be there and is continuing to look for opportunities to connect Sydney Alliance voices in Surry Hills.
Recently Neighbourhood Matters participated in the Out of the Box Missional conference run by the Uniting Church. The conference was open to all who were interested in exploring the theme of mission and even deconstructing the term. What does mission look like today?
We heard from Ellie Elia who has a creative community in Glenbrook. Covid forced her congregation to reorient around the community in different ways and also to work with other denominations. The church building was not as important as most things went online and they had to use different spaces for gathering. It also instigated more creation of art and the community had to discern carefully what God was saying to them. She described herself as not really “following the book” when it came to mission and emphasised how important relationships are.
We also heard a lot about “umu spirituality” from the lighting of the Pacific Islander umu to a panel that represented various people from cultures around the Pacific and Korea as well as our indigenous peoples. We celebrated communion with taro and coconut juice.
Neighbourhood Matters led a workshop around pioneering which was well received. We had a panel of on the ground pioneer replicators, innovators, adaptors and activists. Our questions were;
What is a pioneer?
Why do institutions like the church, need pioneers?
How can we identify, nourish and develop pioneers?
Why do pioneers struggle in institutions?
There was lots to think about there! We loved hearing different people telling us stories about their journey of starting up new and creative ventures in existing contexts.
Neighbourhood Matters recently hosted a group of people who were in Sydney for the International Association for Mission Studies. We took them on a walk around Surry Hills and shared with them about our work. There were people from Nigeria, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand and the USA. What we all had in common is that we are practitioners in our churches and neighbourhoods and that we desire to see more churches connect with their communities.
We shared about our work in Surry Hills in connecting with people, establishing projects in the community and working with local partners for the good of the community. We also shared about our work in starting and facilitating groups where people meet for discussion around spirituality, ethics and deeper meaning-of-life issues.
We found that we had a lot in common with each other and that we are all asking the same questions about the church: How can the church see itself as one part of the ecology of the neighbourhood? How do we discern what God is up to in the community where we are placed? How do we see place as important? Why is it that the church seems to be answering questions that people are not asking? How can the church partner with more residents, organisations and institutions in the community?
At a time when the church is in decline and more people are instead connecting with nature and indigenous spiritualities and looking for alternative places to find community, what does the church have to offer? This is not a question of becoming “relevant” or changing our essential message of love, truth, justice and grace, but instead about becoming more integrated in our community and embodying that message where we live. It sounds easy but, in a context where people are sceptical about the church and where the church has become more insular in many ways, it can become a daily uphill climb to do what seems so simple.
We all recognised this as we continued in our discussions. But we also agreed that people today are looking for meaning. If we listen to people, we discover that many have had either bad or difficult experiences with the church, which makes them hesitant to be involved in anything religious. If we listen to people, we hear our Christian friends confessing they marked “not religious” on the recent Census but not telling anyone for fear of being ostracised. If we listen to people, we learn just what they mean by saying they are “spiritual not religious”. If we listen to people, we hear what they love about connecting with nature and other communities. People are searching for meaning in this messed-up world. Will the church connect with them or will it become more isolated in a context where the church has already lost its influence?
How well do you know your neighbourhood? I have been living in the inner-city for only 6 years now but very involved in the community. So I thought I knew a lot about my neighbourhood. However on a recent tour, I realised yet again that there is still so much to learn about the place where I live.
(Laneway of Surry Hills near Sophia St considered one of the most dangerous streets in Australia at one time)
This was a tour of Surry Hills and we were led by Elliot Lindsay who is a historian that runs Murders most foul , “true crime” tours of Surry Hills. We walked through various streets and places in my community. We stopped at houses where there had been dodgy activities, crimes, sly-grog dealing and brothels from the 1920s and 40s. We walked past a house where a woman’s body had been found only eight years after she had died. This is the famous Natalie Wood or “the woman that Sydney forgot“. So I learnt more about the history, the past of where I live and this actually connected me to the present even more. It made me think about how important it is to connect with our place whether it is through the history, land, community activities or public spaces.
(Classic Surry Hills- a “dunny lane”)
Is there a tour of your neighbourhood that helps people understand the history of that place? It would be essential to have our first nations people speak into this experience so we know about the land, the native flora and fauna. Perhaps we could even learn how to engage in some foraging. Each tour of various neighbourhoods would be different. For instance, Surry Hills has a history of being a suburb that has gone though many changes and also a place that had a lot of criminal activity. Other places might focus more on the natural surrounds or the built environment.
(Tour guide Elliot Lindsay)
Whatever the context is, it’s rewarding to ground ourselves in the place where we live. This gives us a better sense of our connection as people who live in and move to different places from time to time. We begin to appreciate our short- term and long-term impact. It also helps us to be better care-takers of our neighbourhoods.
Have you ever though about running a “tour” of your neighbourhood? What a great way to connect locals and get to know where you live in a deeper way.
Most people find door-knocking irritating. When someone knocks at the front door unexpectedly, usually we think it’s a salesperson or even perhaps someone dangerous. In the past, door-knocking was a common practice employed usually by salespeople and perhaps others doing surveys, but it has gone out of style as people don’t want to be intruded upon in their own homes.
So it caught our attention when we read that, during the federal election this year, the Greens Party employed a strategy of door knocking over 90,000 doors to get to know the community in inner-city Brisbane and engage people finding out what they really wanted from their elected leaders. The idea was to grow a grassroots campaign based on “social work as a political strategy”. It is widely held that this is one of the reasons the Greens did so well in Queensland when this had not previously been the case.
It’s helpful to apply this lesson more broadly to community engagement. One perennial issue when it comes to community engagement or activation is making sure all voices in the community are heard before starting programs, building infrastructure or beginning community projects. How do we make sure no one is left out and all have a say so that everyone benefits from plans to build a better community?
We wonder if door-knocking, though often perceived as an irritating practice, could make a comeback and be used by community members to engage those who perhaps often do not have their voices heard. It is time-consuming for both the one who does the door-knocking and the person who is being consulted. It can also be complex in some ways to sort out what people are actually communicating – anyone is social work would know this. But what better way to really listen well to community needs?
Perhaps, before community projects are being put forward for grants, before large infrastructure is built and before neighbourhood projects commence, door-knocking people’s homes should happen on a wide-scale. In this way those with the proposals can get a better idea of community needs, get to know the neighbourhood and truly listen to what people want. The community will feel heard and will then be more likely to engage with the projects being proposed.
What are your thoughts on door-knocking as a way to better get to know the needs of the neighbourhood?