Two projects that counter harassment and promote inclusion, and assist struggling high school students to develop job skills have earned Wollongong City Council two 2019 National Awards for Local Government.
‘I Belong in the Gong’, was developed because new migrants, especially women, reported being publicly abused. This program, took out the Prevention and Community Safety category, while the “Our Eyes on the Future” project, focusing on vulnerable school age students, topped the Workplace Planning and Development category.
“It was exciting to be recognized by our industry peers for what has been achieved and the two programs we’re very proud of,” said Wollongong City Council General Manager, Greg Doyle.
“It was also important for us that the awards provided external recognition of the efforts of Council staff to explore new and innovative ways to support inclusiveness in our City.”
More than 203,000 people live in the Council’s local government area, of whom more than 21 percent were born overseas and almost 17 percent speak a language other than English at home.
“I Belong in the Gong comes out of stories that were told to Council from a forum that we’re involved in about behaviours that were happening to women in our CBD, especially women who were obviously Muslims wearing the hijab,” said the Council’s Radda Jordan.
“They were getting harassed and verbally abused and were frightened. We just thought ‘we can’t allow that to happen, what can we do to change to culture from one of fear around those cultures and really welcome them to our city?’”
The campaign used social media, television advertising, media and marketing materials in shop front windows to encourage people – primarily women – to report unwanted behaviour. It was a success and expanded to include small bars and cafes.
The NSW Government-funded project began for an initial two years and is a partnership with NSW Police, Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra, Illawarra Multicultural Services and Strategic Community Assistance to Refugee Families.
“I call the project a campaign because it seems to have gone beyond the project and it’s got longevity,” Ms Jordan added.
The job training program, Our Eyes on the Future, was a way to support school-based trainees and introduce them to careers in in local government.
“Youth unemployment has been a perennial problem in Wollongong and stands at around 13 percent which is slightly higher than the NSW average at the moment which is around 10.5 percent,” said the Council’s Library and Community Services Manager, Jenny Thompson.
“We all know that making that connection, being able to connect from school through to work is really important, and also more and more, being able to finish school.
“Our program is not aimed at the star kids, the high achievers, the ones who will find that transition easy, but at people that are perhaps struggling or a bit disconnected from learning.”
Mr Doyle said the program offers a way for young people to work in Council’s libraries and achieve a VET Certificate II or Certificate II qualification while also completing their high school education.
“Our first group of trainees finished last year and some of them have moved into library careers – including with Wollongong City Libraries – and others into higher education and employment,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to seeing what our current group achieve.’’
Participating students and their families responded positively to the program, as have Council staff who’ve supported and nurtured the younger workers.
Mr Doyle said Council will continue to run both projects and develop them.
“As Local Government we have an important role as a leader in our community,” he said.
“This is a responsibility we take seriously and that’s why we seek opportunities and initiatives like these that empower our staff and the community to celebrate who we are, what we are about, and the different ways we can support each other to bring out our best.”
Image: Council and community members involved in the ‘I Belong in the Gong’ campaign. Photo courtesy Wollongong City Council.