The Role of Neighbourhood Centres in Supporting New Arrivals to Integrate Into Life in South Australia

Author: Cassandra Gibson-Pope

Gibson-Pope, Cassandra, 2017 The Role of Neighbourhood Centres in Supporting New Arrivals to Integrate Into Life in South Australia, Flinders University, School of History and International Relations

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This study considers if the participation at neighbourhood centres by newly arrived migrants to South Australia assists in their connection to community and the establishment of supportive social networks. It examines how South Australian neighbourhood centres understand their role in assisting those newly arrived to South Australia to integrate and belong, and whether they have been effective in filling the gaps in the Australian National Settlement Framework.

Neighbourhood centres in South Australia are locally based multifunctional services that rely on a small core of paid staff and many volunteers. They function as a focal point for the local community, providing a meeting place and offering a range of strategies to assist individuals in community education, volunteering, health and wellbeing, social inclusion and life-skills programs.

This study seeks to understand the perspectives of the main stakeholders - staff and volunteers working in neighbourhood centres, and new arrivals who use the centres - on three specific research questions. What role do neighbourhood centres in South Australia play in the integration of new arrivals into their local community? How do new arrivals become socially connected to their local community through participation at neighbourhood centres? What are the limitations and opportunities of neighbourhood centres fostering social capital among new arrivals in South Australia? The research framework draws on social capital theory and its application to migrant integration, and uses a multi-method qualitative design from a social constructionist perspective.

This research identified two distinctive approaches to newly arrived migrants operating within neighbourhood centres in South Australia. One approach focusses on service delivery, where individuals and groups are perceived to have needs that can be met through programs, services and activities. The neighbourhood centres tended to take an economic perspective on their work and measure their efforts in numerical terms. They conceived of community members as users, customers or clients who attend programs and were reluctant to reach out to newly arrived migrants. This approach was associated with a focus on specific needs or deficits of individuals, with the overall objective being self-reliance.

The other approach taken by some neighbourhood centres is a people-centred holistic approach looking at the individual as a whole person, as a member of the broader family who comes with deficits (lacking skills, English language difficulties) but also capabilities that can benefit the neighbourhood centre and the local community. The more holistic neighbourhood centres described members of the community as contributors and active participants, and understood their own role as assisting community members in building social relationships, cross-cultural understanding and a sense of belonging. The concern here is with the new arrival’s sense of belonging and feeling part of their new community, and with the host community gaining insight and cultural understanding of the new arrivals’ way of life. This approach is more conducive to a two-way form of integration.

Keywords: Neighbourhood Centres, new arrivals, integration, South Australia, belonging, social capital.

Subject: Social Administration thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of History and International Relations
Supervisor: Susanne Schech