Docklands Neighbourhood House left out of council budget amid new stakeholder group
The City of Melbourne has not included funding for the Docklands Pop-Up Neighbourhood House (DNH) in its 2023/24 draft budget, instead looking to establish a new stakeholder group to drive community engagement in Docklands.
The pop-up, which was established at The District Docklands by The Centre in North Melbourne, has operated in Docklands since 2019 thanks to original funding from Development Victoria (DV) and one-off council grants.
While DV’s original funding injection was always understood to be short-term, The Centre has since been lobbying the council to support its ongoing operations by providing long-term funding.
However, following the announcement of its draft budget last month, money for the pop-up was not provided by the council – news not met well by The Centre and other members of the community who have benefited from its presence in Docklands.
Speaking to the council’s draft budget at the May 16 Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting at The Hub in Docklands, The Centre’s Ariel Valent said ongoing community development was vital “if Docklands is to thrive”.
“I’m here to talk to you about an item missing from the budget which is Docklands Neighbourhood House,” he said. “I want to make it clear that councillors have not made a decision to not fund Docklands Neighbourhood House, rather, City of Melbourne management has simply not proposed it to be supported.”
Our goals for the Docklands community are social cohesion and community empowerment. Our approach is bottom up, community driven and local scale. We elevate the quiet voices of Docklands residents, especially new migrants.
Since its establishment, the pop-up led by its community development officer Jason Butcher, has facilitated a range of regular programs, including playgroups, health and wellbeing classes, fishing sessions, art classes and the popular repair café, among others.
It has also run a host of events including community sports days and a picnic for international students, while it has also supported Docklands’ growing Indian community by facilitating four Hindu celebrations, such as the Holi Festival in 2022.
But Mr Butcher told Docklands News that what DNH did went “deeper than the activities and events we host – there are front-line services”.
“During my time at DNH, I have personally tried my best to provide support, referral, and advocacy for community members escaping intimate partner violence and coercion; struggling to navigate and access government services; dealing with rental and landlord issues; and going through anxiety and stress about their visa status, and their progress to permanent residency and citizenship,” adding this was “especially true” during the two years of COVID lockdowns.
“We may not have always been successful, but I will guarantee to you that we’ve worked our absolute guts out doing our best to try to support people,” he said.
Mr Valent said he understood the decision had been driven by a concern that the level of community engagement the pop-up was currently facilitating was “lower than desired”, but that an 18-month-old Neighbourhood House couldn’t be compared to an established one.
“It would be more palatable for local communities if City of Melbourne management had a different plan for community development in Docklands. The local community has the right to know what the council would be doing to fill the hole left by Docklands Neighbourhood House,” he said.
The council has revealed that it will instead establish the “Docklands Stakeholder Group” – an outcome derived from last year’s Docklands Summit, which it says will provide a forum for information sharing, improving community connection, identifying opportunities to leverage existing grants, and understanding each group’s priorities and potential alignments.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the council was committed to creating and strengthening community connections between residents, workers, students, and visitors across the city, by providing a “wide ride of neighbourhood initiatives”.
“We want to ensure we’re supporting a wide range of neighbourhood initiatives and delivering the best outcomes for our community,” Cr Capp told Docklands News.
We’ll continue to work with Docklands residents and organisations to explore initiatives and activities that support social inclusion, connection and community empowerment.
Docklands resident Cr Jamal Hakim added that the stakeholder group would determine the best model of community engagement in Docklands.
“Community-led engagement and community led-ways of supporting community is critical to all of this, and one of the outcomes from the Docklands Summit was the establishment of a working group to determine the best ways of achieving this in Docklands,” he said.
“This group will work on what is the best model for Docklands – for community by community, and I’m looking forward to hearing feedback and nominations for this initiative as part of the current EOI process.”
A spokesperson for the Docklands Representative Group, which partners with DNH on the Docklands Repair Café, said, “We really believe there is an important role for a Neighbourhood House to play in Docklands.”
“It’s really important for a new suburb that it has organisations that are embedded in the community – we really need other programs and entities that operate at a grassroots level.”
DNH is calling on members of the community who support its campaign to stay open in Docklands to make a submission to the council’s draft budget via the Participate Melbourne website, or sign a petition.
Expressions of interest are also now open for the council’s Docklands Stakeholder Group via the Docklands Neighbourhood Portal: