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Newtown Neighbourhood Centre: the beating heart of Newtown

By Adeline Teoh

The Newtown Neighbourhood Centre understand how versatile a car boot can be. For some it’s where the groceries go, for others it’s a luggage compartment. But what if it were an essential storage area for your living quarters?

Newtown Neighbourhood Centre Carboot Sleepout

For many Australians who have been edged out of accommodation due to the housing crisis, living out of a car may be the most viable temporary solution. It’s a prospect that the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre (NNC) highlights in its annual Car Boot Sleepout, an event that raises funds for its services by inviting members of the community along for a slumber party that helps them gain insight into people’s experience of homelessness while building connections with other socially aware locals.

The 2023 event raised enough to extend the hours for the Centre’s Drop-in Hub, and it is once again asking the community to park themselves on the roof of Marrickville Metro on 21 May 2024 to continue its great work.

“We're all about the community,” says Newtown Neighbourhood Centre Drop-in Hub manager Katie Yealland. “We're particularly strong advocates for people who are vulnerable, people at risk of homelessness, but we do so much more. We've got long-running aged care groups; we’ve got a social support program; we have English classes. And we have a healthy ageing adviser that’s come on board more recently. It's so diverse, but at heart it's all about responding to community needs.”

One segment of the community that’s key to NNC’s success is its team of volunteers, “mostly local people with heaps of diverse skills,” Yealland describes. “Volunteers bring so much to the centre. Some of our strongest advocates are volunteers. We have a long-running volunteer program called Newtopian Outreach [who] once a week go out and speak to people who are sleeping on the street. And then those volunteers talk to their friends and community. It destigmatises homelessness when people understand people's situations a bit more. I feel like that program has a real ripple effect.”

Yealland has been a witness to this effect for more than a decade. She first started working at the Centre in 2011 in its boarding house program, then left in 2017 to work in community development. She returned last year to manage the Drop-in Hub and says the changes have been wide-reaching.

Newtown Neighbourhood Centre

“Things have expanded, like the service provision. We've brought in members from other teams with various skills and specialties, like the healthy ageing adviser, the homeless response worker, someone from the boarding house team, someone in the community strengthening team. So we draw on each other’s skills and we are able to respond in a more specialised way,” she explains.

Outside the Drop-in Hub, her favourite NNC service is the One Stop Shop on Thursdays, from 2-4pm. Here, a range of services – from government and legal advice, to housing, laundry, food and health offerings – come together to support those who need it. It’s accompanied by Chat ‘n’ Connect, where people can socialise over a free coffee or tea in the Centre’s courtyard. “It’s just a beautiful location and it’s a good way to bring a whole bunch of services together,” Yealland says.

It's testament to its capacity to meet the needs of the people they serve, she adds. “Something I've always loved about Newtown Neighbourhood Centre is their ability to respond to needs in the community, be creative and be innovative. I feel like it’s a really resilient, adaptable organisation that can roll with the punches. And it's always doing something interesting.”

Newtown Neighbourhood Centre is at 11-13 Darley Street, Newtown. The Drop-in Hub is open weekdays from 10am; see their website for details of events and services, and how to support the centre. Follow Newtown Neighbourhood Centre on Instagram to stay up to date with their latest events.

Local favourite

Newtown Neighbourhood Centre’s Katie Yealland has a soft spot for dogs and enjoys interacting with four-legged friends in the park. “I love Sydney Park. I usually go on my lunch breaks and get my dog fix, pat a few dogs and just hang out there,” she says.

And if she’s grabbing lunch on the go, it’s probably a kale pastry from Miss Lilly’s and maybe a soy hot chocolate from Rolling Penny. “I'm an anomaly here, I don't drink coffee so that's my thing.”


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