Bay and Basin Uniting Church and Uniting – a partnership for a stronger community that supports children and young people.

Bay and Basin Uniting Church and Uniting – a partnership for a stronger community that supports children and young people.

The Bay and Basin Uniting congregation on the NSW South Coast in Shoalhaven, partners with Uniting’s Firefly Bay and Basin Project. The project aims to improve the lives of children and young people in the area by noticing the bright ideas already alive in the community, then building a response out of this. This is one of four Firefly pilot projects initiated through Uniting’s Future Horizons funding.

The Bay and Basin congregation provides much needed office space for the project.  They also participated (with others) in a series of conversations about community aspirations and resources for improving the lives of children and young people. The congregation felt that the skills of local youth were not always recognised and little opportunity was given for them to engage positive role models

In this article Barry Higgins, Uniting’s Community Impact Strategy Lead, explores why a little skate park in Sanctuary Point, a suburb of Bay and Basin area, has become an important part of the solution to this congregational and community concern.

The Case for Place – Why a little skate park in Sanctuary Point matters

When people ask me which community my kids belong to, I find it difficult to answer. Like a lot of parents Fiona and I try to select communities that will make our kids’ stronger. We look for the ‘right’ schools, sports and activities that will challenge yet not deflate, and groups of friends who will be good role models. If one connection goes bad we look for another We invest time, transport, money and lots of thought into this. When you think about it, many parents are committed place makers, seeking to construct and filter the environments their kids ‘swim’ in, to support their healthy development.

Some of us question if communities these days are less designated geographies and more a menu of connections we select way beyond our postcodes. Sometimes in our supposedly more complex online world, local communities can feel like relics of the past. Don’t we do life across wider spheres and interest based ecosystems these days?

Yet imagine the impact of everyone retreating from the magnificent task of building healthy local communities? We’d all miss out but especially those of us who largely rely on those communities for well-being. Not every kid gets to select from a large menu of connection choices beyond their postcode. When the local environments some kids live in go ‘pear shaped’ they can’t just ‘jump ship’ into new networks and filter out ‘less desirable’ networks. For many kids without transport options the recreational facilities and meaningful connection points are limited to those that are in walking distance. Role models? Activities? Yes, all important, yet more bounded to places close by. For many kids the local community is their world and occupying themselves within it is their daily challenge, often without a whole lot of awareness about opportunities beyond this. For some kids, this can be great; for others, it can be a disaster.  

The importance of local communities to many people cannot be underestimated. This is why what happens at a place like the Sanctuary Point Skate Park in the NSW South Coast town of Shoalhaven matters. Just ask Fran, a local woman who spends lots of her free time cleaning up the broken glass and twigs in the skate bowl. She busts up fights that occasionally blow up between kids. Fran’s formed a base of concerned locals wanting to see the park improve. They know how much the skate park matters for kids whose parents don’t have the time or means to open up a ‘menu’ of other connection or recreational options. They know that it especially matters for kids who see the skate park as a more life-giving option than going home.

Carolyn is the coordinator of Firefly Bay and Basin, a Uniting initiated Future Horizons project that strengthens communities to work better together on improving outcomes for their children. She got wind of Fran’s concerns about the skate park early on and took time to understand how the community wanted this park to work better for kids.  This included hearing from the kids. Working alongside Fran and others, an agenda for change has grown – a bubbler, cutting back trees to improve casual surveillance, alcohol free zone, covered seating for community to be present, advocating for a ‘pump track’ (a dirt circuit for bikes & scooters), getting parents engaged to improve safety, connecting kids to role models, improving skating skills – basically making it the healthy community hub the community aims for.

Carolyn has made lots of important connections across key community people who need to be working better together to make things happen. With gentle advocacy from Carolyn, Fran’s concerns about the park were heard by Council. They are now working with Carolyn on a skate park behaviour mapping study and combining with her to identify community aspirations. Simon, a champion BMX rider (winner of the USA X games), and Melanie, another respected BMX rider who’s recently moved into the area, both now in their 40s, are keen to encourage kids. Carolyn’s also worked with Fran and other locals to collect more than 400 signatures to council for the pump track – an almost unheard of number of signatures for the area. The resident-led ‘Sanctuary Point Pride’ group (with Firefly/Uniting support) obtained a Youth Week grant to run a skate day and street art competition. Headspace, the local primary and high schools are also working with Carolyn to improve things.

This is just one small window into the work Carolyn is doing across the communities to make places where children and young people can thrive. The work starts with really listening, and appreciating what locals think is important to make this happen, then working with all in the community to build a way forward. Together, we have identified five goals the community is getting behind. One of those goals is to create safe environments where children and young people can connect with their community and thrive. That is what the skate park project is all about and the strength of Firefly’s approach  

Our biggest achievement since Firefly commenced 16 months ago, is development of strategic collaborations focused on improving outcomes for kids, especially 9-14 year olds. This is an age the community as a whole strongly believes is under resourced. Another of our five community owned goals is ‘all children being able to realise their potential’. To this end we are working with local sporting groups and various organisations to not only make sports more inclusive, but also to identify local role models who can inspire less advantaged children and young people. We are also working with local schools and services on improving transitions into high school and adolescence more broadly.  The whole approach is about strengthening a community’s resource engine to better use the gifts and skills already in a community – paid and unpaid.

We need more place makers like Fran, Simon, Melanie and Carolyn – people who focus on creating a better community for all kids, not just the more privileged kids. Not every parent can or wishes to direct their children into safe ‘custom-made’ circles of support, they rely on the village for support – warts and all. This is their only choice so we need to make these places as supportive as they can be. As Margaret Mead said ‘Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has’

*To find out more about Uniting’s investment into Firefly Bay and Basin lookout for our website which currently under construction.

Barry Higgins

Community Impact Strategy Lead

Uniting

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