The power of a cohesive community: Springvale’s story

By Our Reporter
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Photo courtesy of scanloninstitute.org.au

As part of the Refugee Week, the Scanlon Foundation Research Institute (SFRI) has launched a new narrative; Strong communities don’t just happen—Springvale’s story, which uses remarkable insight from one of Australia’s most diverse communities to highlight that with time, the right investment and steadfast commitment, the building blocks for achieving social cohesion are within reach for all Australian communities.

Drawing on research led by Monash University combined with extensive local interviews, SFRIs narrative explains how Springvale, with 71 per cent of residents born overseas, built a strong social fabric through 50 years of community investment. In the face of one of the world’s most onerous lockdowns, Springvale’s residents rallied in an extraordinary example of the power of a cohesive community.

Author Trish Prentice said, Springvale’s strength is testament to the ‘social capital’ established from people working together to solve problems and form organisations.

“With all the organic challenges that come from an extremely diverse population coupled with a significant illicit drug problem and persistent socio-economic challenges, the Springvale community worked tirelessly for decades to meet the needs of its residents.

“Targeted investment, deep relationships between local government and the social service sector, together with an unwavering commitment from cultural, faith and community groups saw the creation of bonds that led to what is now a strong and cohesive community,” she said.

Prentice said when the pandemic hit, Springvale had the deep-rooted social support infrastructure in place to swiftly respond.

“Local organisations, social services and local government were acutely aware of the community’s vulnerabilities, so their response was highly coordinated. They shared resources and were agile in filling gaps in service provision, particularly as support for refugees and asylum seekers.

“Council worked closely with community groups and leveraged their local knowledge and networks in reaching multicultural communities. Considerable human and material resources were mobilised and shared, made possible by the existing processes and systems that were already in place,” she said.

The narrative highlights that under considerable pandemic pressure, many relationships in one of Australia’s most diverse communities became stronger. Latent tensions did not rise to the surface and groups did not turn on each other. In a unique time of uncertainty when the social fabric may have disintegrated, the opposite was true.

“With just 7 per cent of Springvale’s residents recording their ancestry as Australian and only 19 per cent with English as their first language, an important learning is that homogeneity is not a prerequisite for social cohesion,” Prentice said.

The narrative was launched in the lead on Thursday 13 June at Springvale City Hall. Read the full report here.


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