The Newtown Neighbourhood Centre (NNC) has been providing essential community services for more than 40 years. Like many local neighbourhood centres, it was established during the Whitlam years and has a proud history of supporting people in need.
Their core focus is working with people who are the most marginalised: people experiencing homelessness and social isolation. The NNC website states,
“NNC aims to build an inclusive, resilient, self-reliant and creative community. The Centre provides support services to the local community and in particular to disadvantaged groups such as the aged, people at risk of homelessness, people with mental illness, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and people on low incomes.”
We spoke with the centre’s CEO, Liz Yeo, about the great work they do, an upcoming event and their long-standing relationship with True Accounting.
A place in the community
Neighbourhood centres are special. Like all not for profits, they provide extremely valuable services to their communities, but it is the physical sense of ‘place’ that makes them different.
Liz explains how NNC helps the locals of Sydney City and the Inner West:
“There’s no doubt that neighbourhood centres have morphed and changed over the years since they were first established; they all evolve based on what’s needed in the local community.
Here at NNC, we work with the whole of life… on any given day we could have a rainbow babies’ playgroup in one room, former Yugoslav aged care social support group in another room and a person experiencing homelessness downstairs getting assistance in finding housing that night. They can all be in the building at the same time.
There’s something unique about the sense of working within the whole community… it’s all here in its diversity, complexity and humanness. That’s something I love about working in a neighbourhood centre.
Different centres will focus on the needs of their community. It might be disability services or aged care services, but here at Newtown our core focus is people at risk of homelessness and social isolation. So, we run homeless outreach programs both to people in boarding houses and those who are sleeping rough.
We run aged care social support programs for people from older multicultural communities or diverse communities who are experiencing social isolation. Plus, we have children’s programs with a particular focus on kids and families in social housing or in other potentially disadvantaged situations. We host everything from reading groups to barbecues for local community members so that they can connect with each other and help them find out about local services.
And of course, there’s all our event activities… prior to COVID we’d been hosting the Newtown Festival for more than 40 years; there aren’t many other community events that have been running continuously for that long. Plus, we were holding the weekly Newtown Markets in the Newtown Square and hiring out our rooms in the centre.
We know the importance of these events and activities to the local community and how much they add to the vibrancy and quirkiness of Newtown. We will be talking with our community over the coming months to determine what these things look like in a post-pandemic world.”
Neighbourhood centre challenges
Financial sustainability is a key challenge for all not for profit organisations and NNC recognises the need to secure future viability. Liz continues,
“Every CEO of every non-profit is focused on ‘how do we ensure that we are financially sustainable and viable for the long term?’ That’s a big challenge.
In addition to that… for us at Newtown, we have to think about how we actually keep the doors open.
Funding is for very particular types of service delivery… we aren’t funded under a general term as a neighbourhood centre so that we can have someone to meet and greet everyone. We’ve had to think about creative ways to share responsibilities across our team resources, find ways to raise money and involve volunteers to physically keep the doors open.
And related to that is ‘how do we ensure the events and fundraising strategies generate enough of a return for the cost, effort and risk we take in putting it on?’”
Tuesday 11 May sees the return of the Newtopian Sleepout fundraising event. This will be the fourth year for the sleepout and the 2021 event will be subject to some COVID-19 related restrictions. Liz outlines the details of the event:
“The Sleepout started in 2017, and we decided to do this type of event because of our focus on homelessness. We were hearing from community members that they were really concerned about growing numbers of people sleeping rough around our area.
We use the event as a way for people to have a tiny taste of what it is like to sleep rough. We sleep out in Newtown Square on King St and we hope that the experience will grow people’s empathy and understanding.
We have experiential exercises on the night to give people more insight and they usually meet someone with lived experience of homelessness.
We also give them information about our volunteer program called Newtopian Outreachers. We’ve now trained around 65 volunteers who go out on a regular basis to connect with people who are rough sleeping.
The primary purpose of the event is a fundraiser, and at the moment we are still looking for a few more people to sign up… we just ask anyone who does commit to raise at least $1250. This year we have had to limit the number of people involved to just 40 because of the COVID restrictions.”
Working with True Accounting
NNC first started working with True Accounting in 2012 when we were known as Matrix On Board. And today, Liz views Account Manager Carol Tran as part of her team.
“We have an in-house part-time Accounts Officer and our Operations Manager has some overall responsibility. But our relationship with True Accounting is really important.
Carol is incredibly supportive of our team. She is always responsive and very helpful. We see her as an extension of our team.
It’s great to have an external set of eyes on the organisation and the reporting is excellent. Our monthly reporting for the board is always very clear. It helps us strategically think about long-term trends, where we’ve been, where we are heading, what certain scenarios mean.
I actually just recommended them to another centre looking for similar outsourced accounting services.”
If you want to find out more about the Newtopian Sleepout or make a donation visit the website today.
Newtown Outreachers photography by Diana Shypula at Koshka Media.