Bairnsdale facilitator: Judy Ireland

The Bairnsdale Study Circle was set up as part of the “Stories My Community Told Me” project. This is one component of the larger “Communities for Children” project which is being coordinated by Kilmany Uniting Care.

One of the “stories” from the Bairnsdale Study Circle culminated in offering a dress-up box to the new Maternal and Child Health Centre.

The Bairnsdale Study Circle met over 9 sessions from Oct to Dec 2005. There were 5 participants and a local facilitator.

Each of the participants brought a depth of experience, knowledge and interest, reflecting their different backgrounds. They came together through a common belief in the value of a caring community. They included a single mother with a 3yr old who has what would be considered an “alternative lifestyle”, a mother of 3 children under 5yrs who has been an active business woman but is now a full-time mum, a married lady who has no children of her own but who has a passionate interest in issues for youth and a man in his eighties who has raised 9 children and who continues to be an active community volunteer.

Early sessions focused on the sharing of concerns and passions about the community. There was a general consensus that it is important to develop the concept of a “caring community” so that an individual’s horizons are broadened beyond personal needs in order to encourage consideration of others. Many specific issues were discussed, such as the importance of being able to access a regular family doctor, the value of cross age experiences – where there is contact between the young and old in the community, and consideration of the factors that make any community child-friendly.

During discussions about child-friendly environments it was noted by those with young children that they felt that the Bairnsdale Maternal and Child Health Centre in Riverine House was not at all child friendly. On the last visit there were no toys or books or anything that could help amuse young children whilst waiting for appointments.

As it was known that the Maternal and Child Health Centre was about to move into new premises, it was felt that it could be an opportune time to meet with a representative to share ideas. Such a face-to-face meeting could have been confrontational for both parties, (and 1 of the study circle participants expressed this concern), but it was, in fact, a very positive time.

Ailsa Carr, the Director of Family, Youth and Children’s Services at Gippsland Lakes Community Health Centre, was very interested in listening to ideas from the study circle. She agreed to attend a meeting where she was able to talk about the plans for the new centre, where she acknowledged some of failings of the old facility and also the differences in running a Maternal and Child Health Facility as part of a comprehensive health services facility, rather than a stand alone facility.

The meeting was a great opportunity for people to come together and realize that sharing ideas and open communication are great ways of moving forward. Many of the presented ideas to help to create a more child-friendly environment will be incorporated in the new Maternal and Child Health facility.- eg – posters on the walls, children’s books, pencils and paper, durable toys that are safe for all ages, an outdoor play area and a dress up box.

A simple dress up box was put together by the study circle as a positive gesture for the new facility. This was a great way to conclude the group, whilst also meeting the study circle objective of having completed a project.

The story of the dress up box is just a simple example of an outcome that represents people coming together to discuss concerns and work towards solutions. The study circle participants reflected on the process as one which had many personal benefits including:

  • Learning how to use different networks
  • Learning to share and support others in developing leadership skills
  • Feeling a sense of empowerment
  • Education on the issues that affect young children
  • Meeting people you would not normally meet
  • Having time out from the kids and an opportunity to use my brain
  • Having an opportunity to participate in a community project.

All the individuals were enthusiastic about the opportunities that enabled them to think in different ways, to listen, to share, to learn and to feel empowered.

Thus the study circle story is very much about personal growth and opportunity as well as the identified project, in this case, a dress up box.

July 27, 2013
Community Engagement