Stronger Together: Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre Walks the Talk

mid mountains neighbourhood centre staff

Some of the staff at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre – Back Row: Tish, Ingrid, Janelle, Danielle; Front Row: Sonda, Rachael, Pauline and Sian (Photo: Kerin Pollock)

Story by Belle Butler

Tucked into a leafy nook in Lawson, the Belong Blue Mountains Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre is a delightful place to have a quiet break, learn a new skill, do an exercise class, participate in a social group, or take the kids to playgroup. It also offers resources and services essential to a thriving community.

Key Points:

  • Neighbourhood and community centres are central hubs for community connection, relationship building, learning and belonging. They provide essential resources and services that strengthen social cohesion, well-being and community resilience.
  • Belong Blue Mountains run three community centres in the Blue Mountains LGA – Blaxland, Lawson and Katoomba. Each centre strives to meet shared and distinct community needs.
  • Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre in Lawson offers a vast array of activities, resources and services tailored to suit a range of ages and diverse needs.

From May 13-19 2024, the nation celebrates Neighbourhood Centre Week with the theme ‘Stronger Together’ – an apt slogan for our Blue Mountains centres that listen closely to the pulse of our community and work hard to keep it healthy and strong.

When I moved to Lawson pregnant with my first child, I experienced first-hand the social benefits of getting involved with my local neighbourhood centre. Starting fresh in a new place with a newborn can be isolating, but the usual challenges of building a social network were abbreviated for me by the existence of a few invaluable community services.

One such service was the Kookaburra Playgroup held at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre every Monday from 9:30 – 11am. I took my bub, Leo, with me every single week before he could even benefit from the toys or social engagement himself, because at that point, the outing was my dose of connection with other adults and other parents.

Leo loving the leaves during Kookaburra Playgroup at Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre, 2016 (Photo: Belle Butler)

The playgroup provided participating adults with a chance to chat about the joys and dramas of parenthood, to make new friends (some of which have remained my closest companions), to gain insight into the quirks of babies and toddlers, and to seek advice when things were rough. Once our kids were old enough, playgroup provided them with the invaluable experience of social interaction. This is where they first started to learn about making friends, sharing, being gentle, and (hopefully) about not eating the sand in the sandpit.

Still friends – Leo, Frankie and Addie used to hang out together at Kookaburra Playgroup back in 2016 – now they do backyard-fire-nights and movies. (Photo: Belle Butler)

Kookaburra Playgroup is still held on Monday mornings, 9:30-11 during school term, and remains one of many opportunities for social engagement accessible to the community at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre. The Centre in Lawson is one of three community centres run by Belong Blue Mountains, with the other two located in Blaxland and Katoomba.

Belong Blue Mountains prides itself on the organisational values of being inclusive, collaborative, agile, principled and person-centred, while creating an environment that fosters mutual respect, empathy and social justice. “Our centres play a vital role in promoting equity and social justice within our local communities,” said Danielle Wilding-Forbes, Community Engagement Manager Belong Blue Mountains.

“By offering targeted services and support to marginalised populations, such as low-income families, older and isolated community members, and individuals experiencing homelessness, these centres help to address systemic inequalities and empower individuals to overcome barriers to social and economic advancement.”

With centres in the lower, mid and upper Blue Mountains they provide a broad range of services across the LGA. These services include information and referral, social support, community development, practical assistance such as phone, printing and digital support, child and family services, emergency relief, and auspice support for community groups.

MYST battle of the bands

Attendees at the MYST ‘Battle of the Bands’ event held at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre 2023. (Photo: Belle Butler)

While shared community needs are noted across the LGA, Belong Blue Mountains acknowledges distinct differences in each centre. In order to ensure flexibility and responsiveness to community needs, centres are staffed five days a week with experienced community workers in Admin and Community support roles.

Danielle noted that one of the key benefits of neighbourhood centres is their ability to provide personalised support and assistance to residents in need. “Skilled workers at these centres can offer one-on-one guidance, helping individuals access the resources and support they need to address specific challenges, such as navigating the NDIS or My Aged Care intake, accessing social support groups, accessing healthcare services, or addressing mental health issues,” Danielle said.

Dedicated volunteers also help the centres run smoothly. Sue in reception has been volunteering one day a week at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre for the last four years. “I feel it’s important to support my local community,” she said. “I enjoy the reception work, meeting new people and developing a connection with the clients. The staff are all very supportive and appreciative, and they make me feel welcome too.”

Danielle echoes Sue’s sentiment: “I love that we are person-centred and respect the lived experience. The passion of my colleagues to see that we all do better for our most vulnerable spurs me on.”

blue mountains conservation society

Andrew Solomon from the Blue Mountains Conservation Society at an event at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre, 2023. (Photo: Belle Butler)

Something for Everyone

The Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre, like its sister centres, is a central hub that fosters community engagement while providing essential services and cultural enrichment opportunities to a range of ages and differing needs. Acting as a scaffold for connection, relationship building, learning and belonging, it plays a vital role in strengthening social cohesion, wellbeing and community resilience.

“These centres serve as a hub for community engagement and collaboration,” said Danielle. “By bringing together residents, community organisations, and local businesses, these centres facilitate networking and partnership opportunities that can support community development and promote social cohesion. This sense of community connectedness can lead to increased civic engagement and collective action, fostering a more vibrant and cohesive neighbourhood.”

Danielle noted that many of their most popular programs started with an individual popping in and simply asking for support of an idea.

Activities and services on offer

Below are some examples of what’s on offer, but for a comprehensive peek you can peruse the full list on the Belong Blue Mountains website.

I can personally attest to the value of Chess Club having taken my son, Leo, there for many months. There are few opportunities for mixed ages to come together and share something they love – this provided that unique experience and allowed my son to gain knowledge and skills from other kids and adults in the community. While we now have a basketball clash with this activity, Leo still hopes to return: “Chess is fun! I learnt the king and castle swap move at Chess Club. I look forward to going back.”

chess club at lawson neighbourhood centre

Participants at Chess Club. (Photos: Kerin Pollock)

  • Community Café – Thursdays 10-12. Come along and meet some new faces while you enjoy a cuppa and a light snack in this friendly social group.

“I really enjoy volunteering at the café.  It’s great to spend time sharing stories and I love the conversation and the humour.” – Lyn, volunteer at Community Café.

  • Tech ‘n’ Connect – Tuesdays 10-12. Learn to better use your digital device, email, photo, zoom and more.
  • Standing Strong Classes – Tuesdays, in 10 week blocks. Group exercise classes for over-65s to improve strength, balance and mobility.

Alex from Earthrising Mushroom Farm in Lawson

Alex Felix from Earthrising Mushroom Farm talking at a Permaculture Blue Mountains event held in one of the rooms at Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre. (Photo: Belle Butler)

Services available to community members include:

  • Allied Health for eligible over-65s, which aims to: keep people safe & active whilst living at home, build capacity and resilience, support wellness, and provide re-ablement and restorative care for older people within the Blue Mountains community;
  • Early literary support and toy libraries for young children;
  • ASSIST building and maintenance services for eligible community members;
  • The ‘Be Ready’ program, aimed at ensuring community members are ‘aware, capable and prepared’ in the event of an emergency.

These are just a few of the activities and services available to the community. Please contact the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre on 02 4759 2592 or visit their website for more information about services, activities and resources.

And as if that wasn’t enough… remember you can also hire a room at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre for your next group activity or birthday party!

Take Action:

  • Check out the Belong Blue Mountains website and get involved – The Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre has something for everyone.
  • Come and celebrate Belong Blue Mountains during Neighbourhood Centre Week at a BBQ at Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre on May 15 from 10am-12pm.

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This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

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About Belle Butler

Belle Butler is a writer, musician and occasional photographer. She likes mix-and-matching these artforms and often explores the same themes through each of them. Her short fiction has been published in numerous Australian literary journals and she recently received a WestWords Fellowship and Mentorship with Delia Falconer for her novel manuscript, ‘River.’ Hopefully it will be published one day.

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