Every now and again I surprise myself. Last week, as a University Of Wollongong (UOW) Alumni, I was invited to be a panellist at the “Technology Tools for Social Change Symposium” co-hosted by UOW and End Street Sleeping Collaboration. It was a stimulating discussion between my co-panellists, Toby Dawson, Founder and Director of Tomorrow Together; Erin Longbottom, Nurse Unit Manager – St Vincents Health Network; The Hon. Victor Dominello – NSW Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government (think – Service NSW App!) and Steve Worrall – Managing Director Microsoft Australia and New Zealand. Whilst my husband joked that I should take the opportunity to ask my esteemed colleagues for tips on how to use the TV remote, ironically, much of the discussion centred on people, not technology. Technology is certainly one of the strongest and most effective tools we have to drive change, yet it must be fit for purpose for our whole society so that no one is left behind.
At our AGM on 2nd Dec, I was proud to present Healthy Cities Illawarra’s 2021-22 Annual Report and celebrate the impact that our work has on our communities’ health and wellbeing. I hope that clicking through the Report brings you a sense of hope, optimism and resolve in the promise that together, we can work to change our trajectory and create happy, healthy, clean environments for people to live and thrive. A few highlights were:
- Working towards our Innovate RAP
- We penned our Commitment to Child Safety
- We grew our Volunteer Program to 94 volunteers | 6,180 hours | $216,300
- We launched our Ambassador Program – thanks to the support from Trish Davidson, Amy Duggan, Sandra McCarthy, Les Dion and Brett Connelan
- We held 10 Friday Forums
- We worked with local government to re-launch Play Illawarra
- We celebrated the inaugural Illawarra Women’s Day of Dance and Culture
- We launched the Wollongong Online Farmers Market
- We grew our advocacy and community action in Active Transport
I am, by nature, an optimist, and so I like to see as many silver linings as possible, but it would be remiss of me not to report that the end of 2022 also signals the end (temporarily, we hope) to our successful Cook Chill Chat project and our Active Connections project. Funded by the Federal Departments of Social Services and Health respectively, each of these programs have provided social connection and health and wellbeing outcomes before, during and after COVID restrictions to vulnerable communities in collaboration with many other community organisations.
Over 7 years, nearly 500 participants of Cook Chill Chat benefitted from the eight-week cooking/gardening program that brought socially isolated and disadvantaged people together to learn, cook, share meals and participate in community life. Since 2020, Active Connections was delivered in conjunction with SCARF refugee support to bring over 150 refugee and new migrant women together in a safe environment to exercise and be physically active. The outcomes include increased social connections, improved mental health, increased learning opportunities, increased self-efficacy and re-engaging participants with services that further support social health and wellbeing – and our thanks to A/Prof Shamika Almeida, Dr Kishan Kariippanon, Dr Hui-Ling Wang and Theophilus Tagoe from UOW for their research evaluation work.
We continue to apply for grant funding to keep these necessary programs in place, however for now, it is regrettable that we must press pause. It is one thing to collate the evidence which underpins such programs and to read the impressive outcomes, but it is quite another to hear the personal testimonies of participants themselves, if only funders could hear the words of Waffa and Mona who spoke at the Active Connections End of year Celebration at the Wollongong Town Hall this week! They spoke of how their new friendships have made resettlement so much easier and how their doctors’ credited their physical activity and social connection with vast improvements in both their physical and mental health – thank you Waffa and Mona for sharing your stories.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and may good health be with you all.