Community Connections

Following last year’s devastating bushfires in the Blue Mountains, a research project involving CSU and community partners is underway to identify, explore and address the needs of older vulnerable people living in that region.

The year- long project is being led by ILWS member Dr Val Ingham, a senior lecturer in emergency management at CSU’s Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security.

‘Community Connections’ partners (L-R) Dr Sarah Redshaw (CSU), Ms Toni Quigley (SNCC), Kath Harrison (KNCC), Ms Prue Hardgrave (BMCC) & Dr Val Ingham

‘Community Connections’ partners (L-R) Dr Sarah Redshaw (CSU), Ms Toni Quigley (SNCC), Kath Harrison (KNCC), Ms Prue Hardgrave (BMCC) & Dr Val Ingham

“Following the October 2013 bushfires in the Blue Mountains when residents’ lives were disrupted for weeks and nearly 200 homes were destroyed, a range of community vulnerabilities were identified,” says Dr Ingham.  “This research intends to develop strategies to connect community members and organisations in order to better plan for vulnerable and ageing populations both in day to day life and in times of future emergency.”

The project Community connections, older and vulnerable community members – identifying, exploring and addressing community needs within the Blue Mountains (2014-2015) is funded equally by CSU, Blue Mountains City Council, Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre, and Springwood Neighbourhood Centre Cooperative.

The research collaborators are Dr Val Ingham and Dr Sarah Redshaw (CSU), Ms Kath Harrison, (General Manager, Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre), Ms Toni Quigley, (Manager, Springwood Neighbourhood Centre Cooperative) and Ms Prue Hardgrove, (Ageing and Disability Officer, Blue Mountains City Council).

The City of Blue Mountains straddles the mountain ridge in a 75 kilometre ribbon development serviced by one major arterial road and one main railway corridor. The City has a population of nearly 79 000 living in 33 348 dwellings scattered across 25 separate hamlets. The Blue Mountains has a higher proportion of people aged over 65 years than the rest of NSW and Australia.

(This is more than 11 700 individuals or 15.6 % of the Blue Mountains population), and there is a higher proportion of lone older person households (3 100, or 10.6% of the Blue Mountains population) compared to 9.2% for NSW and 8.8% for Australia.

“Specific challenges arise for older, vulnerable and at risk members of the Blue Mountains community due to the natural geography and topography of the region, the known natural disaster risks (such as bushfires, earthquakes, severe weather storms), the ribbon development, demographic profile, and the variable public infrastructure,” says Dr Ingham.

“There are a number of contributors to vulnerability including living alone, low income, and unemployment. Other factors are ageing, living with dementia, disability, chronic debilitating illness, and/or chronic mental health issues. In addition, social vulnerability or lack of social support increases overall vulnerability.”
The research is being conducted through interviews, focus groups, and a postcard survey delivered with Blue Mountains City Council rates notices asking people about their neighbourhood connections. The survey is also accessible at the neighbourhood centres, council offices and libraries.

“This research will identify the needs of vulnerable community groups and inform strategies to develop and increase individual and community resilience during possible extended periods of isolation,” says Dr Ingham. “These can arise, for example, from road closures and the halt of public transport due to natural disaster, lack of power during major outages, and situations arising from lack of connection to the wider community.

“We are especially interested to talk to vulnerable community members who are dealing with chronic illness or disability, frailty, and social isolation. The more we can find out about people’s needs for social connection the more we can mobilise resources to help them.”

The project was launched at the Springwood Sports Club on Tuesday May 27 and included a talk on ageing and social isolation by Associate Professor Michael Fine, a sociologist from Macquarie University known for his research in the field of social policy and human services.

About ilwscsu
The Institute for Land, Water and Society is one of four Centres of Research Excellence within Charles Sturt University, Australia. Its principal focus is on integrated research which contributes to improved social and environmental sustainability in rural and regional areas.

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