Canberra Community Champions

Each month, I recognise a Canberra charity or community group as a ‘Canberra Community Champion’. As Assistant Minister for Charities and Federal Member for Fenner, I’m keen to shine a spotlight on the vital community-building work done in the bush capital.

Acknowledging these great organisations is one way of reversing the decline in social capital. Over the past generation, Australia has become more disconnected. We’re less likely to join organisations, we have fewer friends, and we’re less engaged in sporting and political groups.

Charities can help build a reconnected Australia, and Canberra Community Champions is a small recognition of the big work being done in our community. To nominate a Canberra Community Champion, please drop me an email suggesting a local charity, and explaining (in a few sentences) why their work deserves recognition.

This month's Canberra Community Champion:

Raise Our Voice Australia - April Community Champion

April’s Community Champion is Raise Our Voice Australia, an initiative that works to increase the presence of young female and non-binary voices leading the conversation in politics, domestic policy and foreign policy, and ultimately to see political systems and government that reflects the diversity of the Australian population. It does this by running training and mentoring programs for young women and non-binary people.

Raise Our Voice Australia was started by Ashleigh Streeter-Jones, reflecting on her own experience in public service, background in international relations and work to get more young women into politics. The first cohort ran from September to October 2020, with 37 young women and non binary people graduating from the online program. Over the eight weeks, the participants learned about the workings of government and policy making, the realities of having a diplomatic career, what it’s like to run for office, and what it’s like being the person in the decision-making seat. Speakers ranged from public service leaders to current diplomats and sitting politicians, and included a crisis diplomacy simulation run by the US Consul General. Half of the speakers were from diverse backgrounds - after all, you can’t be what you can’t see.

Raise Our Voice Australia founder, Ashleigh Streeter-Jones.

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Mothers' Groups - March Community Champions

The March Community Champions are mothers’ groups across Canberra for the fantastic work they do supporting new mothers and parents across Canberra.

Mothers’ groups provide a supportive and encouraging network to help mums navigate motherhood. They coordinate walks, coffee meet-ups and playgroups.

There are many benefits of mothers’ groups, including the opportunity to meet new people, learn new parenting skills and establish a support network.

One mothers’ group in Canberra is the Up & About Mothers’ Group, run by the Upside of Me. Up & About is an innovative group that combines health services with social activities to help new mums get up and about. The group socialises with a Walk & Talk session in Telopea Park, followed by a Latte & Learn session with a local speaker.

According to founder Lisa Anderson, the group is all about empowering new mothers. It centres on the values of socialising, friendship, confidence and learning.


The Up and About Mothers' Group in action, with founder Lisa Anderson (right).

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Orange Sky - February Community Champion

2021’s first Community Champion is Orange Sky, an organisation that provides a free mobile laundry and shower service for people sleeping rough.

Each van is kitted out with washing machines, dryers, laundry baskets, hoses, a generator and water tanks. But according to Orange Sky co-founder, Nic Marchesi, the most important equipment is the six orange chairs that are set up next to each van. In the hour that it takes to do the laundry, volunteers and clients sit down and have positive, non-judgemental and sincere conversations, fostering genuine connection.

Orange Sky volunteers and clients chatting while they wait for the laundry. Source: @orangeskyau instagram.

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Givit - December Community Champion

December’s Community Champion is Givit, a charity that connects those who have with those who need, by the simple act of giving. Givit operates like a match-making service, linking up generous donors with genuine need. Charities can request specific items through Givit, who then matches these requests with items donated by members of the public.

You can see exactly what is needed, which maximises the impact of gift giving. It also reduces waste by diverting reusable items from landfill to help people.

In Reconnected: A Community Builder's Handbook, Nick Terrell and I profile Givit and its founder Juliette Wright. We discuss how the organisation has over a decade developed into a nationwide charity that has facilitated the gifting of over 2,500,000 items to people in need.

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Krofne - November Community Champion

The Canberra Community Champion for November is Krofne Donuts. Krofne is a Canberra bakery that aims to create employment opportunities for teens and adults with special needs.

The social enterprise started when Danijela and John Vrkic sold donuts at the Old Bus Depot Markets with the help of their son Anthony, who has down syndrome. From there, the business quickly expanded as support flooded in. They now have regular pop-ups all over Canberra and an online website.

Krofne founder Danijela Vrkic with her son Anthony.

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parkrun - October Community Champion

The October Canberra Community Champion is parkrun. parkrun is an organisation that hosts free, weekly community events where people can join to walk, jog, run, volunteer or spectate.

As Nick Terrell and I wrote in our book Reconnected, inactivity is a health problem and a social challenge. parkrun has found a way to address both challenges: it gets people exercising outdoors, while making friends with members of their local community. The group post parkrun coffee is always an added bonus.

It’s a positive, welcoming and inclusive experience that is entirely organised by grassroots volunteers. All you have to do is register online and show up.

 Ginninderra parkrun

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Scullin Community Group - September Community Champion

This month’s Canberra Community Champion is the Scullin Community Group. They’re a group of passionate locals who build community and have transformed the local shops into a community hub.

Before the pandemic hit, the Scullin Community Group had established fortnightly games nights, coffee chats every Friday morning and twice weekly social soccer games. These events are opening up again as COVID permits, including a local take on Floriade NightFeast in a number of Scullin’s parks this Friday night. Over the past two years the group has also transformed the shops into a meeting place for residents, with a community noticeboard, art murals, garden beds – until COVID they even ran their own shop!

Chatting with Scullin residents at the local shops last year, in front of the beautiful mural organised by the Scullin Community Group.

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Ngunnawal Street Pantries - August Community Champion

The August Canberra Community Champion is the Ngunnawal Street Pantries. The Ngunnawal Street Pantries is a local, community driven group with the philosophy of ‘give when you can and take when you need’. They operate like public exchange book libraries; members of the public donate items, and anyone can take what they need.

They are accessible every day during daylight hours and open to anyone who is in need or knows someone in need.

The first pantry started about a year ago with a tub of non-perishable food items on a front lawn. It’s now grown into several different pantries across Ngunnawal, including food, women’s, craft, toy and pet pantries.



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Belconnen Arts Centre - July Community Champion

July’s Canberra Community Champions is the Belconnen Arts Centre.

Belco Arts is a community driven arts organisation with one core purpose: to fuel a love of and engagement in the arts. It is a multi-purpose space that brings together diverse creatives in Canberra across a variety of arts practices and mediums. It’s a place to celebrate, experience creative journeys and share stories. The team at Belco Arts is currently working hard to engage with, connect and support the creatives throughout social isolation.

Artists and creatives have been hit particularly hard by COVID. Whether it is visual artists who cannot hold exhibitions, musicians who have had their gigs cancelled, lighting technicians and theatre ushers being stood down – there is no part of the arts sector that is unaffected. Last week, I joined Alicia Payne MP, David Smith MP and Labor’s Shadow Arts Minister Tony Burke for an online forum with Canberra creatives and arts organisations. 


Casey Community Outreach, by Eleanor Ng of Casey        

The arts sector is doing it tough. And yet now more than ever, Australians are turning to the arts to find comfort and solidarity with our community. Australian stories are absolutely vital to promoting a sense of solidarity and togetherness. Whether you enjoy seeing Australian stories represented on screen or reading them on the page, resonate with the beauty and power of Australian visual art or appreciate listening to Australian music, the arts are fundamental to our culture and identity.

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Axial Housing - June Champion

June Canberra Community Champion – Axial Housing

Canberra Community Champion’s June shout out is Axial Housing, which is managed by Catholiccare.

Axial Housing is a ‘housing-first’ program that supports rough sleepers into permanent, secure housing. The program is unique as it does not discriminate based on employment status, criminal history or drug use and specifically targets people who have struggled to secure housing in the past. This is a significant, positive step towards more inclusive housing options for people with complex needs.

Another terrific aspect of Axial Housing is that it provides individual and flexible assistance for people based on their personal needs. And this support is wrap-around, which means that it extends beyond assisting a rough sleeper into a house and continues to provide long term support that is specifically targeted at breaking the cycle of homelessness. Importantly, it provides pet friendly housing. For many of us, a pet can be like family, so this consideration is very welcome.

A former rough sleeper who had been on the streets for 20 years shared this photo of his dog in his new home, provided as part of the Axial Housing program.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.