Neighbourhood centres have existed in NSW since at least 1961. They grew along with the movements for self help, resident action and welfare rights. Many early neighbourhood centres began as Community Aid Centres, Citizens Advice Bureaux or Community Information Centres. Since the 1970s, centres have adopted a community development focus, encouraging and enabling disadvantaged people and communities to participate in the decisions which affect their lives and move away from dependence on traditional forms of welfare.
NSW Government funding began with small seeding grants in the late 1960s and was boosted by Australian Federal Government funding through the Australian Assistance Program which emphasised the development of local initiatives and participation.
Local Community Services Association (LCSA) was founded in 1974 to act as the representative coordinating body for neighbourhood centres. Member centres formed regional networks or forums which select a representative to the LCSA Management Committee. Regional Representatives maintain a direct information exchange between neighbourhood centres and LCSA, and amongst neighbourhood centres in their region.
The number of Neighbourhood Centres steadily increased as funds were made available. The Department of Youth and Community Services funded 32 centres in 1977. In 1978, this rose to 59, increasing to 143 Neighbourhood Centres by 1984/85.
From 1976 the Department operated a Neighbourhood Centre Programme specifically orientated to Neighbourhood Centres. This was amalgamated with the Community Information Centres Programme in 1980. In conjunction with LCSA and Neighbourhood Centres, the Department developed its own Neighbourhood Centre Policy in 1985. This policy has developed through a number of versions, the last being in 2003.
CSGP and Beyond
In 1991, neighbourhood centre funding was incorporated into the Community Services Grants Program (CSGP) which funded a range of community services. Over the next two decades, the role and value of community development became obscured within the community and government which focussed more on direct service delivery to the detriment of preventative initiatives. At the same time, the diversity of neighbourhood centres increased, as individual centres adapted to meet both changing community needs and funding opportunities. A number of neighbourhood centres now act as multi purpose community service centres while others focus on one or two services or activities.
CSGP endured multiple reviews, no funding enhancement which led to ever growing uncertainty. In 2010, following sustained advocacy by LCSA and its colleague CSGP peak bodies, the core funding to neighbourhood centres was increased by 20%, funding for new services was made available and the funding program was moved to Commuhity Builders with a renewed emphasis on community strengthening reflected in service specifications.
Member organisations of LCSA move into the second decade of the 21st century with new found opportunities to practice community development principles in the contexts of contemporary New South Wales.