Mental Health


Challenges to social inclusion work during a pandemic

Angela Vidic, Health Promotion Practitioner from Access Health & Community spoke with Claire Dimsey and Louisa Mitchell about her reflections on the delivery of Health Promotion work in the social inclusion space.

Angela discusses the challenges of working through the pandemic and how a Social Inclusion program adapted to meet the needs of the public housing residents in Hawthorn East.

1. Can you tell me about when and how you have been involved in Social Inclusion work?

I have been involved in the social inclusion work for the last four years so all of the span of the Integrated Health Promotion (IHP) work since the start of 2017. Prior to that, I was involved in the planning of the 2017-2021 plan.

2. What are some of the changes you have experienced since you have been involved in Social Inclusion work, especially over the past 2 years.

Some of the changes have been:

  • being involved in new partnerships
  • being involved in the Covid 19 pandemic and
  • recovery after the pandemic.

There has been a big change in the social inclusion space, particularly over the past 2 years. More so how we ran things pre Covid 19 and what we could do during Covid and now coming out of Covid, and how we have to adapt and change the way we work.

In particular, with marginalised community groups. I think that has been the hardest things to change and adapt with. But also another change being how us as practitioners deliver our work and how we work together. Also, our partners that we deliver our work with, and how we work with them to deliver our projects.

3. You have mentioned a number of changes. From your point of view, which do you think is the most significant?

The story I want to talk about is how we have worked on social inclusion with a liveability lens at the Hawthorn East public housing sites. Prior to Covid there was the forming of some partners to work together in delivering work in two public housing sites; Caroline and Munro streets. There were community engagement workers from Alamein Neighbourhood Learning Centre that were contracted to assist with the engagement work with the residents. The department were also involved in this and were overseeing the work.

Us as practitioners, I become involved in the Social Inclusion Practitioner Working Group (SI PWG). This involved being in communication with other practitioners who were delivering similar work in other social housing sites in the inner east of Melbourne. I was starting to engage with the residents at Caroline and Munro Street so that was pre Covid. Then Covid happened. In March 2020 we were ordered into lockdown and as a practitioner I had to work from home along with the residents being less engaged in person and all meetings to be held online. This was hard to work with the community and in partnership with other agencies and practitioners. We adapted as best as we could.

Work with the community was slower however new partnerships with agencies were formed along with the SI PWG meeting more regularly. This was a great support as a working group to assist with issues, concerns and the delivery of work. When we could come out of lockdown, we were able to connect with the community and engage with them.

In saying this, I also established an enabling committee for Caroline and Munro Street in February 2021. This consisted of a number of agencies and services and a resident who are involved in some capacity with Caroline and Munro Street. We have been meeting monthly online and now I have a resident on the committee as well.

During the second lockdown in 2020 Access Health and Community along with healthAbility employed community engagement workers for the high-risk accommodation response team, or HRAR. This has been vital for our engagement with the community. It has meant we have been able to partner with them, to speak to residents and assist with an action plan. Although the work has been slower, now we are at a point where we have a well-established enabling committee, along with an action plan that we are going to be implementing with the residents. Along with this, the SI PWG has been meeting regularly and de-briefing about our work, along with providing great support to one another.

4. Why did you choose this change in particular and why is it significant to you?

I chose this change as it has been the most significant in adapting during the pandemic to still be able to deliver our project.

5. Who’s this change important for?

It’s most important for the community as we are looking to work with them to enable a more socially inclusive community. Along with finding better ways of working with services and residents. Also how best practitioners can support each other during a pandemic along with delivering projects.

6. What difference has this change made, or will it make in the future?

It can help us for further pandemics also knowing that old school community engagement, knocking on doors, meeting face to face is just as important as the background work with partners working online. Knowing that the Hawthorn East public housing sites are all 55 years and older, so there are a number of residents who are not connected digitally.