Nestled in the leafy and quiet streets of Northcote in my electorate of Batman, soon to be called Cooper, is a jewel of community hubs. I refer to Jika Jika Community Centre. On arriving at this gem of a place you are welcomed by a lovely courtyard colourfully painted by community members. They tell you that at Jika Jika you can develop friendships, find support, exchange ideas, learn new skills and become more involved in the community. The effervescent and thoughtful Gina Wittingslow runs the centre with care and concern for her community. Her deep commitment is reflected in the programs, showing her understanding of what the people around her need: art and recreation classes, language classes, choirs, basic computer skills and, for the more advanced or newly minted microbusiness folk, MYOB courses.
Jika Jika offers inclusion and friendship through dance classes, and there is one for everyone. From ballet for the babies to tap and bop for the energetic, there is a dance for all abilities and those with special needs. Playgroup, child care and young family programs are plentiful, meeting so many needs and helping new mums and not so new mums with all the challenges faced by growing families. There are music lessons that range from gypsy and world music orchestra to violin lessons, Caribbean drumming and Celtic jam sessions. There is indeed something for everyone.
The beauty of neighbourhood houses like Jika Jika lies in the fact that they bring the community together, who then determine what is important to them and what their needs are and set about delivering them. The impacts are far reaching and include reducing isolation, developing much-needed skills and keeping communities robust. I am so lucky, because my seat is home to a network of neighbourhood houses. They have at their core a social justice framework underpinned by community development principles, listed as community ownership, community participation, empowerment, access and equity, lifelong learning, inclusion, networking, advocacy, self-help and social action.
Neighbourhood houses are true grassroots organisations that rely on the community and hard-working staff to deliver their programs—like those at the Reservoir Neighbourhood House, who know only too well that inclusion and dealing with social isolation actually saves lives. Reservoir Neighbourhood House has always provided wonderfully inclusive programs like support projects for parents caring for children or young people with a disability or children with Asperger's. They offer counselling and help for people with depression or anxiety, and for people on Centrelink and on low incomes in partnership with another great organisation in Batman—Diverse—they offer a vital free tax-advice service. Unlike so many community organisations, Reservoir Neighbourhood House provides cheap and nourishing lunches along with cooking classes and free bread days in a community pantry. I congratulate Angie and her wonderful staff for keeping the house alive and thriving with minimal resources. It's organisations like our neighbourhood houses that desperately need our support.