Helping to bring Docklands’ soul to the surface

Helping to bring Docklands’ soul to the surface
Sean Car

To any Docklander who has had the pleasure of getting to know Jason Butcher, they’ll already be familiar with the fact that he is pure heart and soul.

He may have only worked in our community since 2019, but during that time, Jason has established a reputation for being a fearless champion and advocate for Docklands.

One could be forgiven for thinking that he’d worked his entire career in community development, such is the connection he has established with so many locals, and the passion he has brought the area.

But it was only during that same year, 2019, when he made the jump from hospitality – an industry he admitted he’d worked in for “far, far, far too long”, but was also one that gave him the impetus and many of the people skills necessary for community development.

“It [my hospitality career] was all front-of-house. I got really good at being able to talk with people and make them really comfortable,” he told Docklands News.

“I had so many people, friends and strangers and everything, going, ‘you know, you should get into social work or something, man. I reckon you’d be really good at that’.”

“I was just tired of incredibly late nights and wanted to do something more fulfilling for myself and which allowed me to have the capacity to give back a lot of what I’d taken out of the world.”

Since helping establish Docklands’ Pop-Up Neighbourhood House in 2019, which was formerly based at The District Docklands, Jason has undoubtedly poured his heart and soul into supporting this community.

While he also spent time early in his community development days as part of his placement working with the Centre for Multicultural Youth in Sunshine West, he’s remained in Docklands ever since.

But like so many, the passion he now has for postcode 3008 has been fed by a continuous sense of discovery about what Docklands really is beneath the surface – largely, that is, the people who make it what it is.

“There’s probably some people who are going to slam my head against the wall for this …” he laughed. “I guess in a lot of ways I did have what is the common misconception of Docklands – the fact that it was largely, particularly pre-COVID, nine-to-five [workers] outweighing the resident population so much that it was a corporate wasteland.”

“It was only through meeting some of the community groups like Love Our Streets 3008 and actually going out and volunteering, linking up with groups like the YMCA, getting to meet some of the residents who had a real passion for getting things kicking in the suburb that it [the misconception] was disavowed.”

He added that if there was one positive to come out of COVID for Docklands, the exodus of office workers and renewed focus on the notion of “the local” had helped to further reveal more about its identity.

“It [the pandemic] left a lot of gaps for community to fill, and really promoted the growth of the resident community,” he said.

 

“As much as community is used as a sort of blanket term for everyone, basically at the core of it, I tend to think that the real community are the people that are here before and after everyone else goes home. They’re the ones that live here. They’re the core.”

 

And, since serving as the Docklands Pop-Up Neighbourhood House community development officer from its inception, Jason has been able to develop a strong understanding of what that “core” looks like.

Up until its closure this year, the pop-up facilitated a range of regular programs, including playgroups, health and wellbeing classes, fishing sessions, art classes and the popular repair café, among others.

It also ran a host of events including community sports days and a picnic for international students, while it also supported Docklands’ growing Indian community by facilitating four Hindu celebrations, such as the Holi Festival in 2022.

But it was the “front-line services” it often provided to locals in a range of areas including family violence, government services and rental support that only further demonstrated the critical need for a Neighbourhood House in Docklands.

 

 

However, after initial funding from Development Victoria elapsed and ongoing financial support was not provided by the City of Melbourne, the service closed its doors at The District this year.

“It [Neighbourhood House] was hugely appreciated,” Jason said. “The fact that I still have community members coming up to me and asking when we’re going to start running programs again, I think that it shows just how important the way that we approached things was.”

“Community development, to my mind and to my ideals, views the community as creators. It’s much messier, it’s much more non-linear than community engagement, but it involves, getting the community, particularly its more disadvantaged members, used to the fact that they have the power.”

“That they have the capacity and the strength. That they’re the experts in what they do. It’s all about working with them.”

But while the Neighbourhood House may have closed (at least for now anyway) it has done anything but diminish the love Jason has grown for Docklands.

So much so, that he has been quietly working on a campaign in conjunction with some major precinct partners, all aimed at telling the Docklands story through the lens of those who make it what it is – its people.

In celebration of the soul of Docklands, from 2024 expect to hear the stories of just a handful of our many inspiring locals as told by Jason, who believes it will be another important exercise in this community’s development.

“I’ve been talking to people for this project that I’m working on, and just the intelligence of the community, the passion of the community, the commitment that some of the people have to actually affect positive change, not just for themselves but for the wider community as well, is incredible,” he said.

“This community is amazing – it’s the diversity, the breadth of experience, the fact that, there’s people from all over the world, and there’s people who have had experiences that like I could never have even dreamt of having.”

“I think it’s time that that people start concentrating on telling Docklands’ story, telling the story about Docklands’ culture, and building that, rather than just building things. That really struck me, and I hope this project can at least be a platform for that.” •

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