by Grant J Everett
Kim Jones (Project Officer Inclusion)and I were invited to visit a Flourish Australia location affectionately known as The Centre, which is located on Hunter Street address in downtown Newcastle. The Centre is a popular hangout spot for Hunter Region locals who want a game of pool, a workout in the gym, to express themselves artistically, have a bit of social contact, or take part in any of the other structured activities that make up their Day 2 Day Living Program. The Centre runs a range of leisure activities on weekdays, providing plenty of opportunities for personal development and ways to connect with the wider community.
The Centre operates from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and is usually attended by around 40 to 45 people each day (but there have been instances where there were as many as 60 participants). Out of the regulars, there’s a core group of people who have been attending for years, as well as some more recent additions, too. People are welcome to come and go as they please.
Alana, the Senior Peer Worker of The Centre, met us as we arrived, and she was good enough to give us a guided tour.
Kim and I were immediately impressed as we walked through the front door. Our tour through this massive, well-lit space started in the pool room, went past a well-stocked and orderly art room, and into a serious gym. You can tell straight away that the staff and participants obviously take pride in their surroundings.
Like the other Flourish Australia centres I’ve visited, there were ample computer facilities for anyone who needs them for studying, doing research, job hunting, putting together a resume, or just watching funny goats on YouTube. As many of the people who access our services don’t have a computer at home, let alone internet access, this is essential. The Centre also runs a computer class each week in order to encourage people to enter the information age. These classes teach essentials such as how to set up an email account, perform research, or pay bills online.
The Centre provides other kinds of on-site training, too. Their inclusive work incentive scheme is used to employ kitchen hands, baristas, cleaners, receptionists and group facilitators, among other roles. As you’d expect, this program primarily supports people with a lived experience of mental health issues in order to provide them with the confidence and skills they need to get to where they want to be in life.
This service was previously located on King Street (which is why it used to be called PRAonKING), but the staff left those premises behind back in November 2015. The old location was an ancient building that had seen better days, and it was definitely time for a fresh start. Although PRAonKING has ceased to exist, all of its best parts (and people!) have moved to the new location…and that includes the fish. They might not have names, but Goldfish One and Goldfish Two have been with the organisation for a long time.
A chew and a brew
Hunter Street has a dedicated bistro area towards the back, and once lunchtime rolls around there’s always an assortment of affordable hot meals. I had the satay chicken with rice and veggies, and it was well worth a $5 note.
To top things off, you can even get a professionally-brewed cappuccino on site for a lot less than what you’d pay at a cafe. The Centre has a proper espresso machine (Alana isn’t a fan of those environmentally-unfriendly pod machines), and it’s used to teach basic barista skills to anyone who’s interested. In fact, this barista skills lesson has become one of their most popular classes. After all, being able to make an awesome cup of coffee is a skill that will be just as valuable a decade from now as it is today. Although the old machine still works pretty well, there are plans to upgrade to an even more awesome rig.
The upper floor of Hunter Street serves as a hub for the dozens of peer workers and other dedicated staff members who tirelessly look after the large Hunter Region. Alana told us that no fewer than forty-two peer workers share the top level of the building, though the nature of being a peer worker means that they are usually out in the field rather than cooped up in a cubicle. Alana also mentioned that quite a few of them spend a lot of time at Morisett hospital’s many wards and units. Helping people to get out of hospital and return to the outside world is one of the core duties of being a peer worker.
A class of their own
Many of the peer workers and mental health workers situated on the top floor of The Centre run the Youth Community Living Support Services (YCLASS) program. The YCLASS program is managed by Kirby Lunn, and provides non-clinical support for people aged between 12 and 25. As we know for a fact that early intervention is crucial when it comes to lessening the long-term impact of mental health issues, it’s good to know that YCLASS is there to help out the adults of tomorrow.
Alana has been with our organisation as a Senior Peer Worker for two years now, though her role is split between Hunter Street and ISMHU (the Intermediate Stay Mental Health Unit at James Fletcher Hospital). Her day can start as early as 8:30am and go until well after sunset, and Alana’s role can vary greatly from day to day. Her duties can range all the way from admin work to serving food in the bistro. For instance, Alana runs many different kinds of structured activities, engages in a bit of relationship management if things get heated, and buys ingredients for the popular cooking group. Thankfully, she LOVES the diversity.
The main event
Alana told us that one of the biggest events on the Hunter Street calendar is the quarterly social night. It started because a lot of the people who come to The Centre during the day also wanted a place to socialise at night, and it’s grown so popular that Alana has started involving local garage bands (see page 5 for more info).
On the subject of live entertainment, The Centre also runs a talent show at 11am every Friday, and this provides an opportunity for some of the more creative members to read poems, sing songs, play instruments and dance. They’re doubtlessly rehearsing their acts at the moment, so be sure to come and check them out!
Come on down!
Does any of this appeal to you? Well, The Centre is always happy for new people to come and get involved, and they’re only a phone call away! If you aren’t 100% sure, then you’re welcome to come check it out in person.
Note that because The Centre is a recovery service and Day2Day Living Program, if you decide to join the service you’ll be supported to put together a plan to show what you want to do to improve your life and what you will gain by attending, but the staff can help you with this.
Would you like to know more about The Centre on Hunter Street?
Call: (02) 9393 9180
Visit: 627 Hunter Street, Newcastle, NSW 2300