When feelings such as isolation and loneliness are felt by a community, especially in regional or smaller towns, the first port of call, if any, could be its friendly neighbourhood house. Wellways’ Tasmanian-based, Grassroots Neighbourhood House Program, recognises that neighbourhood houses are at the heart of local communities, and a crucial touchpoint from where they can start to improve the mental health and wellbeing of its members.

Mary Edmonds, Grassroots Community Development Worker at Wellways, supports Tasmanian neighbourhood houses to create welcoming and safe spaces. She also trains and educates their staff and volunteers on how to respond to community members with a lived or living experience of mental health challenges, as well as raises awareness at events.

Currently, Mary works with 15 of the 35, government-funded neighbourhood houses across Tasmania. They are run by individual boards of volunteers, who have different approaches, skillsets and levels of experience when it comes to mental health support, and creating safe and mindful environments.

‘Many neighbourhood houses assume mental health is an expert area [and therefore off limits]. That’s why we have conversations to empower them to be responsive and provide extra support to community members [living with mental health issues],’ Mary explains. These ‘conversations’ aim at giving their staff the tools, to equip community members, with the skills to deal with things like stress and anxiety, as well as grief and loss. They can also be taught strategies for self-care and building healthy relationships.

In addition, Mary introduces neighbourhood houses to the ‘Wellways to Recovery’ program, equipping individuals to set their own recovery goals, and our ‘Discovery’ program, relating to peer-to-peer group support. These programs will enable them to respond to the needs of community members experiencing mental health challenges.

‘We love working with Mary on West Winds’ Spaces and Places program. With her open, friendly approach, she’s gentle and wise in encouragement,’ said Stephanie Shoebridge, Arts Culture & Community Development Coordinator at West Winds Community Centre. Located in the Southern Tasmanian town of Woodbridge, West Winds is a progressive neighborhood house with a focus on arts and culture.

Mary Edmonds with the Neighbourhood House team at West Winds' Community Centre in Tasmania.

Mary has already had a staff and community consulting session with West Winds. ‘We are excited about this transformative journey to elevate our space with Wellways, weaving aesthetics with mindfulness to suit the needs of our community,’ says Stephanie. Outcomes from this initial meeting included uncovering and looking at what supporting the diverse needs of the community could look like, and developing community-lead programs, starting with a survey inviting community input and connecting with them through various forums.

‘I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of Lived Experience Peer Workers from Wellways – they helped us create a safe space for our community members to share their experiences and define their needs of a supportive environment,’ Stephanie says. ‘Wellways is a super supportive partner, bringing a confidence in our community consultation delivery at West Winds.’

According to Mary, no two community houses are the same, and therefore she works within their means in terms of resources, and current frameworks. ‘That’s why, we meet the community where they are,’ she says. For example, Mary is working with West Moonah Neighbourhood House, on how they can integrate training into their existing volunteer induction process, as opposed to creating new programs from scratch.

‘Neighbourhood houses are places for everybody,’ says Mary. ‘Often people don’t know what they need. They may connect through visiting the community garden or by joining a group activity. They may come a few times but when they feel heard, welcomed, listened to – then they will start to figure out what support they need.’

As the name suggests, our ‘Grassroots Neighbourhood House Program’ is there to give neighbourhood houses a helping hand, so that they can grow together with and support the mental health and wellbeing of the communities they look after.

We work with Neighbourhood Houses across Tasmania, to find out more visit our Grassroots Neighbourhood House Program.