12 March 2024

Central, accessible, de-stigmatising: Westfield Woden the ideal spot for community hub

| Dione David
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Woden Community Service has officially launched the Woden Community Hub on level 3 at Westfield Woden with various spaces to service the community. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Woden Community Service (WCS) has officially launched the new heart of its community-based programs and activities to support socially disadvantaged people at a central location.

Located on level 3 at Westfield Woden, the Woden Community Hub (WHUB) is a unique public community space comprising an ample function space and smaller private rooms available for public hire.

Here, WCS hosts weekly activities, private client consultations and staff training. It also provides headquarters for The Big Issue ACT and, importantly, a permanent home for the Little Pantry.

WCS Mental Health Services and The Big Issue Program executive manager Leanne Heald said the emergency food relief outlet was crucial in addressing the pressing issue of food insecurity across Canberra.

She said WCS has recorded a 31 per cent increase in people accessing the Pantry since it first opened at WHUB six months ago.

“We’re seeing a broader cohort of people accessing this service because food insecurity is discriminating less and less,” she said.

“In addition to increased access by people who typically need these services – people who may be unemployed, homeless, on Centrelink payments or perhaps single parents. We are seeing more and more people who have full-time jobs, or households with two full-time employed adults, single young people, students and so on.

“Budgets simply aren’t stretching to where they did 12 months ago. And when you’re faced with choosing between keeping a roof over your head or the electricity on and skipping a few meals a week, food is often the first off the list.”

READ ALSO NDIS participants won’t be left in lurch, says Woden Community Service

Community service organisations have been seeing this kind of increased demand for months. Leanne attributed the sudden uptick to the food pantry’s central, accessible location, which she said was de-stigmatising.

“When you go into a community facility to access food and walk out with shopping bags, it’s clear you’ve accessed a food pantry. And while there is no shame in it, many people struggle with this,” she said.

“Here, people are walking out with their Coles and Woolies bags and look just like everyone else doing their shopping that day. That privacy is important to a lot of people.

“We’ve also seen a huge increase in donations to the Pantry. We’ve always known Canberrans are generous and want to help, and the location makes it easy for busy people to do that.”

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WCS’s Leanne Heald said the partnership with Westfield Woden has substantially expanded the community organisation’s reach. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

However, the location hasn’t only increased activity at the Little Pantry. Leanne said WCS has noted an increase in people coming in to inquire about its other services and general operations.

“This is the first in the ACT of this type of partnership – Westfield and a community organisation. It has created so many opportunities to increase our outreach and raise awareness of our services,” she said.

Westfield Woden centre manager Craig Smellie said the feeling was mutual.

“Our customers tell us that having an accessible, safe and welcoming community space here at Westfield Woden is hugely beneficial to them.”

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Current weekly activities at WHUB included Buried in Treasures (a group for people ready to actively work on their decluttering journey), board and card game groups, English conversation classes, Happy Tummies (a nine-week program for parents with young fussy eaters), craft groups to help people tackle mental health challenges and a pre-foundational language, literacy and numeracy program with onsite childminding.

According to Leanne, the Hub also played an increasingly important role in WCS’s goal to bring people from all walks of life together in the community.

“That’s the biggest advantage. From the staff at Westfield to the staff at WCS, members of the community accessing the WHUB, and those there shopping, this kind of space has enormous potential to create community connection,” she said.

“That’s wonderful because we all have a vested interest in supporting our community – we’re just coming at it from different perspectives.”

For more information on WHUB, visit Woden Community Service.

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