For more than a year I’ve been sitting behind a desk in a glass and concrete high-rise in North Sydney, and it’s had me reminiscing about Mondays gone by in Waterloo, where I used to have the opportunity to work with staff from The Factory Community Centre on some of their Beyond Walls events.

Beyond Walls was an 18 month outreach pilot project funded from Federal Attorney General’s Proceeds of Crime Funding and ended in January 2013.

I was originally approached as a community health worker at the Sydney Local Health District to see if I could source a speaker for one of the Beyond Walls sessions. Beyond Walls aimed in part to engage people who may have had issues with alcohol and other drugs, so a speaker with lived experience of hepatitis C and time in prison was arranged to talk about his journey through hepatitis C treatment to health. It generated lots of interest, questions and referrals.

It was easy to see that the investment The Factory had made in the area, and the trust and relationships they had developed with local residents was one avenue through which the health service could begin to build its own relationship with the community. A partnership quickly grew.

Over time we provided more information on health, ran healthy cooking sessions and even set up outreach liver screening (using a ‘Fibroscan’ machine that tests liver stiffness) – and over a quarter of the Beyond Walls participants needed to be referred specialist follow up.

Through the Beyond Walls project, The Factory was able to leverage relationships not only with NSW Health, but with the Housing Department, South Sydney Business Chamber, City of Sydney and other agencies and individuals to provide a program of positive activities that build social capital (and health seeking behaviours) for Waterloo residents.  Dedicated Factory project workers provided individual case management and follow up for those in need of extra support.

I often marveled at the mix of people who would gather at events – all ages, races and genders talking over a cook top or canvass, each person with something to offer the others. The project was testament to how a safe space, trust and opportunities to engage in learning or simple fun can foster social cohesion.  The outcomes were definitely bigger than the sum of the parts and I congratulate The Factory on their commitment to the neighborhood and the community for making it happen.  I really miss those Mondays in Waterloo and I know the community also misses the project.

Colleen, former Sydney Local Health District employee.

This article appeared as a companion item to Confronting Fear of Crime

Originally published in Inner Sydney Voice Issue 119 Autumn 2014