Inner West Neighbourhood Aid – Connecting the Community
October is Mental Health Month in Australia, an opportunity for us all to think about our own mental wellbeing, as well as recognising the needs of those around us – both close at hand and in the broader community – who may need practical support or simply some companionship. At the local level, the good folk at Inner West Neighbourhood Aid have been rolling up their sleeves to offer invaluable practical help to community members for more than a quarter of a century.
The story of Inner West Neighbourhood Aid
Since launching in 1992, IWNA has run programs to help older people and people with disability remain active, healthy and connected to the community. Its team of professional staff work closely with committed volunteers who contribute their time and skills to enhance the lives of IWNA’s clients. By the end of its first two years of operation, IWNA was providing services to 70 people, with the help of 41 volunteers and three staff.
The organisation began with a volunteer home visiting program as a means of assisting older people and people with disability to live in their homes. It then branched out to focus on safety in and around the home, with groups of volunteers assisting with gardening, and then progressed to group outings. IWNA now provides an even wider variety of services to more than 680 clients, with 12 staff and more than 150 volunteers.
“It’s so easy to feel isolated when you’re living alone,” says Lisa, an IWNA client, “so I appreciate the social aspects as much as the help with the mail and reading. For me, the secret to staying happy is to ensure that I have regular contact with people. These visits help me stay connected. Neighbour Aid provides wonderful support that is not a one-size-fits-all service.”
Programs on offer
The range of assistance available to members of the Inner West community covers a number of areas, centred around the home as well as out and about.
Home and community visiting
IWNA clients are carefully matched with a volunteer on the basis of their interests, experiences and outlook on life. These fortnightly visits are relaxed and informal, and invariably lead to strong, lasting friendships being formed.
Help at home
In a new social enterprise, IWNA has set up a competitive fee-for-service program that includes lawnmowing, gardening and small jobs around the home, such as window cleaning and minor repairs. This is open to people living in the Inner West regardless of their age or financial situation. The income generated by this helps to support IWNA’s subsidised programs.
Photo Credit: Inner West Neighbour Aid
Around the home
IWNA’s professional team works with clients to plan a garden they will enjoy. Volunteers help restore gardens so they are safe, easy to maintain and, most important, remain looking beautiful. And they also get as much out of the experience as they put in…
“I started with Inner West Neighbour Aid in 1998,” recalls Betsey, a long-time volunteer and management committee member for more than 10 years before she retired. “I saw an article about Garden Aid in the local paper and thought, that’s something I can do, even though I know nothing about it. How hard can it be? I signed up and right from the start I enjoyed the work. If I had a question about what was a weed and what was a keeper, there was at least one on the team who knew. I learnt as I went along.
“I loved the work and had such good friends I worked with. Most of the group have now been gardening nearly as long as I have, and we all agree it’s a perfect opportunity to get fresh air and exercise in the company of good friends, all of whom I would have never met in the ordinary way. Morning tea is a time to talk to everyone, not just the person you’ve worked next to during the morning.”
“Anyone who’s looking for something to do that takes half a day, requires no fancy clothes or makeup, is not too taxing physically but does involve exercise, fresh air and a bit of socialising, this is for you. You go home tired, dirty and happy.”
Help is provided to keep clients’ home exteriors looking neat and tidy through a subsidised lawnmowing service, which is provided by an approved contractor.
Minor home maintenance
IWNA volunteers can provide invaluable assistance with simple tasks such as fitting and checking smoke alarms, checking power points, changing light bulbs, fixing minor plumbing issues and adjusting hot water systems, and conducting security audits.
In an initiative that works two ways – for the wellbeing of community members and animals in need of a loving home – IWNA has formed a partnership with the RSPCA to help clients find the right dog or cat to match their needs. A win-win situation, which brings that unmatched unconditional love and companionship into clients’ lives, and a happy, caring home for lucky pets.
Whether clients already have a dog or are owners of a newly adopted one through the RSPCA, IWNA has a group of enthusiastic volunteer dog walkers who they can match to clients’ dogs in order to take them out for a weekly walk. Not surprisingly, many of the clients and dog walkers end up forming enduring friendships over their mutual love of their canine companions.
Assisted online shopping
For those who have limited support or find it difficult getting out to their supermarket shopping – whether temporarily or for the long term – IWNA provides a grocery shopping service to help out.
Photo Credit: Inner West Neighbour Aid
Out and about
IWNA organises weekday outings to discover Sydney that are always fun-filled and friendly. Among the most popular are picnics, movies, ferry rides, garden visits, gallery tours, seaside jaunts for fish and chips, exhibitions, parks, shows and clubs.
“My 85 year old dad has been ‘flying solo’ for the past five years since mum died”, says Linda, whose father, Max, is an enthusiastic member of IWNA’s client community. “Whilst Dad and I do a lot together, we realised how important it is for him to have regular social activities and interactions, particularly as he’s not driving himself. After research, I registered dad with Neighbour Aid. The next thing I knew, a calendar of outings came our way. Dad has been to cafes, shows, exhibitions, movies and parklands – all with door-to-door service. Awesome! It has given him connections, stimulation, purpose, community and something to look forward to.”
Saturday social group
Every second Saturday, IWNA partners with those people under 65 years old who are living with disability to enjoy discovering Sydney. These outings can include anything from ferry rides, seeing a movie, visiting gardens, exhibitions and galleries, going bowling, creating art and craft, or simply enjoying lunch out and about.
In a program that actively supports valuable intergenerational and cross-cultural connections, select students from Ashfield Boys High School are paired with local clients who are independent but require physical help with their grocery shopping. The benefits are immense for everyone involved.
Photo Credit: Inner West Neighbour Aid
Health and wellbeing programs
These programs play an essential role in improving the lives of IWNA’s ever-growing membership. “Human connection brings value to our lives,” explains Allison Yee-Brogan, Gereral Manager at IWNA. “Relationships provide us with a feeling of belonging, a sense of identity, a support system, and a way to ease loneliness. We also learn from others’ experiences and by trying out new experiences with those we connect with… those we trust. At Inner West Neighbour Aid, we provide the means for our clients and volunteers to connect with each other and the wider community. We focus on developing long-term relationships to enrich the lives of our clients and those we work with. It is this consistency and passion that enables an organisation our size to make such a positive impact in the community.”
Alive & Kicking
It is IWNA’s aim to help their clients to stay healthy and mobile by exercising their mind and body at a weekly program of activities. These include gentle exercise, laughter yoga, art classes, brain training, talks on healthy ageing, and games.
IWNA offers a weekly balance and strength program to support clients to have a go, build their strength and confidence, reduce the likelihood of falls and meet new people. Delivered by professional trainers at a local gym, these sessions are safe, friendly and fun.
5 Senses Garden Workshops
These inclusive weekly workshops focus on health and wellbeing, creativity, culture, food and sustainability. They’re not only open to IWNA clients, but to the public, too, and are a great way to stay connected to the community and to continue learning new things in a welcoming environment.
Photo Credit: Eventbrite
Volunteering with Inner West Neighbourhood Aid
A small, not-for-profit organisation, IWNA has a staff of 11, and relies on the support of some 150 passionate volunteers, both individual and corporate. They’re as much at the heart of IWNA’s gardening services as they are for outings, health and wellbeing sessions, and visiting and dog walking.
IWNA’s 2018-19 Volunteer of the Year, Jeanette, contacted the organisation four years ago. After joining the IWNA community, Jeanette became a member of the Board in 2017, first as Volunteer Representative. She is now Treasurer.
After retiring from work, she recognised her need to stay connected to the community; to feel useful and to occupy her time in a valuable way. For her, volunteering was the perfect answer, and she was initially attracted to the social aspect of her outings volunteer role. The idea of helping isolated people to enjoy days out appealed to her.
According to Jeanette, she gets as much out of outings as her clients do, and over time has found that supporting others has also supported her. She also loves the sense of community and shared caring. “The staff members are passionate and professional,” she says, “and this communicates easily to all volunteers, clients and partners.”
Corporate volunteers, too, are enthusiastic about their involvement. “You can see the impact a garden can have on clients’ wellbeing,” says Shaun, an NAB corporate volunteer. “It feels like an important element of mental health that could easily be forgotten. Clients are very appreciative of the small contribution we make.”