Loving Your Neighbour: Mt Druitt Residents Lead the Way
Let’s face it- many of us are terrible neighbours. Our busy lives and privacy fixated home designs mean that many of us barely speak to our neighbours, let alone get to know them. We manage to survive in this fashion but our communities do not flourish under these conditions and we all suffer as a result.
Research has shown that for disadvantaged communities, such as those in Mt Druitt, community connections are vital- higher levels of social cohesion can, to a certain degree, mitigate the harmful effects of serious disadvantage.1 At Bidwill Uniting, we don’t just want to mitigate the effects of disadvantage, but see individuals, families and communities flourish and thrive. We want to help people work together to create the communities that they want to live in. We want to help people be the best neighbours they can be- not just for their benefit, but for the benefit of the whole community.
To this end, we work alongside and in partnership with local residents and workers on a range of projects that locals think will benefit their communities. A great example of such a project is the community garden in Tregear. One of our staff members, Cathy Birchall2, supported a group of residents in creating a community garden in their seniors housing complex. The project was the dream of one resident in particular, Sandra Pereira, who loves gardening and is very active in her community. With support from the Royal Botanic Gardens they set about installing raised garden beds for herbs, fruit, vegetables, and a rose garden. They also introduced the complex to lots of interesting plants in pots.
The garden has produced not just fresh produce for the residents’ dinner plates but has improved the wellbeing of the community. “How do I know?” asks Cathy, “…the smiles on their faces tell me.” Cathy also speaks about a particular resident in the complex who was quite negative about the garden to start with but has since become a supporter who now voluntarily waters the garden despite ill health. Through Sandra’s realised vision of the community garden other residents have also discovered the power of neighbourliness to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. The importance of these projects for improving peoples’ lives cannot be underestimated.
Recently, Cathy entered a story about Sandra into the Relationships Australia, Neighbour Day competition. The entry won the NSW and National best story! This competition honours those who are rarely honoured- those doing the important work of building up their local communities. We are very proud of Cathy, Sandra and all the Mt Druitt residents working to build their communities. Whether they realise it or not, they are fulfilling one of Jesus’ greatest commandments, to love our neighbour.
Check out the Bidwill Uniting website to read more about Cathy and Sandra’s story: www.bidwilluniting.org.au
(Pictured) Cathy Birchall, Award-winner Sandra Pereira and Elizabeth Docking from Community Greening.
1 For further reading on social cohesion, see Working with Communities: Critical Perspectives, by Margot Rawsthorne and Amanda Howard (2011).
2 Cathy’s position is funded by NSW Department of Family and Community Services, Housing NSW to work with communities living in public housing across Bidwill and Mt Druitt.
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