Walking the Talk: How volunteering changes the way our teams approach community

The theme of this year’s National Volunteer Week is "Change Maker". While our work in local communities seeks to make change every day, many in our team spend their time outside of work volunteering to make change in their local area.

Walking the Talk: How volunteering changes the way our teams approach community

The theme of this year’s National Volunteer Week is “Change Maker”. While our work in local communities seeks to make change every day, many in our team spend their time outside of work volunteering to make change in their local area.

To many, Bayswater is a hip inner-city suburb in Perth, Western Australia. But for Creating Communities team lead Kylie Elsegood-Smith and Director Andrew Watt, it’s so much more than that – it’s the place they call home, it’s where their friends and family live and it’s a community they have come to love.

The pair are passionate volunteers, who devote much of their time and energy to making their local neighbourhood a thriving, functional community.

In fact, it’s how the pair met before Kylie joined the team at Creating Communities two years ago.

In 2014, Kylie joined another Bayswater resident in creating the Bayswater Collective, a Facebook page for people and businesses who wanted to see Bayswater grow into a progressive, sustainable area. The page quickly grew to more than 3,000 members.

But it was prior to joining the Bayswater Collective where Kylie found her place volunteering in the local community, playing a key role in reinvigorating the Bayswater Bowls Club. With only 30 members on the books the club was close to going under and it was clear something needed to happen.

Along with a couple of fellow residents, an opportunity was seen to create a thriving community hub at the bowls club by hosting regular events that included DJ sets, kids’ activities, and band performances. Soon, the bowls club had more than 500 social members and to this day continues to be a thriving social space for the community.

For Kylie, it was never about the praise or thanks.

“It’s always been about trying to make where I live a better place to work, live and play for me, my friends, my family and the community, and I wanted to have fun doing it,” Kylie said.

“That’s really been my KPI for my volunteering capacity.”

Andrew has been a resident of Bayswater since the early 90s. In 2016, Andrew and Kylie became founding members of the Baysie Rollers, the local Town Team. The Baysie Rollers aimed to activate the town centre of Bayswater.

Andrew then went on to form Future Bayswater with other local long-term Bayswater residents, in which he still plays a key role. Future Bayswater is a group of locals who harness the collective goodwill of the community to inform discussion about what makes a good town centre and vibrant future-focused community.

Initially the group conducted a Speaker Series with experts covering topics like housing, economics, heritage, sustainability, planning and urban design.

They also founded the Bayswater Grower’s Market (now the Bayswater Twilight Market) and the 6053 Pantry, while hosting a number of community events throughout the year.

Since 2017 they have had an annual partnership with Curtin University working with students involved in urban planning and architecture to provide real-life study work in Bayswater.

“For me it was the fact I’ve lived in Bayswater for many years and thought it had so much potential that wasn’t being realised,” he said.

“We saw other town centres thrive where people were living, shopping and playing right in the heart of the centre, but in Bayswater that wasn’t happening, as it had become run down, shops had closed and people were shopping and socialising elsewhere.

“I was doing a lot in everyone else’s area with Creating Communities and thought maybe I should start doing more in my own local area but in a voluntary capacity.”

From running markets, hosting discussions and even manning barbecues, Andrew and Kylie are the first to put their hands up to ensure the Bayswater community continues to grow and fulfil its potential.

For Andrew, one of the things he is most proud of is the 6053 Pantry, which was established to help those doing it tough on the street.

“We noticed there were homeless people in the town centre, so we decided to put some shelves up and ask for donations,” he said.

“That food pantry now operates with about eight volunteers a week running it, and we get food from so many different sources, some from the community but a majority from local businesses.

“That food pantry goes through thousands of items each month and it really supports those people who may be hidden in the community.”

Andrew and Kylie both agree that their volunteer work gives them the insight and perspective needed to work in community engagement.

“My volunteering from a younger age was coaching and being involved in sport,” Andrew said.

“It wasn’t really community development focused, I think I got to the point where I thought that I see what we do at CCA in other people’s communities, but I should really walk the talk a bit.

Kylie agreed and said volunteering informs her own approaches each day.

“You can work in the development area, but not be doing anything in your own community,” she said.

“Volunteering also gives us credibility when working with other volunteers.

“It’s one thing to be a paid individual delegating tasks, but if you can actually say “hey I do this in my own backyard, in my own community,” it gives you more credibility.”

For Andrew, volunteers are the lifeblood of thriving, functional communities.

“Until you walk a mile in the shoes of a volunteer who is doing a whole heap of stuff, you can’t quite appreciate it,” he said.

“We have full time jobs, but I probably spend 10 hours a week on Future Bayswater, but that’s just what volunteers do.

“I think when we’re actually working with volunteers it’s really helpful to be doing some stuff in your own community as well to give you that greater appreciation of what those people are doing in their time to help their community.”

To all the volunteers and change makers we have worked with, we’d like to take the chance to thank you for all the work you do. It might not feel like it all the time, but it certainly does not go unnoticed.

Thank you.

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