Our house, in the middle of our street

Our house, in the middle of our street
Rebecca Smith

Do you know who “owns” Kensington Neighbourhood House? Out of curiosity, we asked this question in our recent participant survey.

Nearly 50 per cent of respondents think that KNH is run by the state government or the City of Melbourne. No, no, no! This mighty little house is proudly owned and managed by the community of Kensington, and has been since 1975.

It’s one of only a few grassroots organisations established in the ‘70s and ‘80s that is still running under community ownership today. Others in Kensington include The Venny Inc. and the Kensington Community Children’s Co-operative.

These unique and much-loved organisations were built by small groups of community members to meet local needs.

Many neighbourhood houses were a result of the women’s movement in the 1970s and Kensington Neighbourhood House is no exception.

In September 1975, a group of seven local women got together in a lounge room on Bellair St to talk about ways they could support one another. Bringing up children in small flats in close proximity to neighbours with no supervised play areas was difficult. Incomes were low, social isolation was high and the threat of domestic violence was often present.

These shared experiences brought the women together. They were looking for breathing space, and the opportunity to sort things out.

By the end of 1975 the group of seven had grown to 42 and the “Kensington Women’s Group Child Care Co-operative” was born. Initially the house was staffed by volunteers as funding was hard to come by.

By 1986, the state government recognised the importance of Neighbourhood Houses and began providing secure, recurrent funding. In later years, this funding was augmented by regular income from the Education Department and Melbourne City Council. In 1995 our house became the “Kensington Neighbourhood House Incorporated Association” you know today.

We are still governed by a volunteer board of management. Of the eight current board members, six are residents of 3031 (the other two live just across the border!). Likewise, our staff are predominantly local. We even employ neighbourhood kids to deliver our brochure twice a year.

So the next time you’re walking past KNH and someone asks, “who owns that place?”, you can answer “we all do!” •

We are proud of our long history of community ownership and engagement. Next year, with a local history grant from the Victorian Public Records Office, we will start cataloguing and digitising all the old records charting the history of KNH. The end result will be a public database of photographs and documents available to all.

We can’t wait to share more of our story with you.

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