For Toowoomba public housing tenant, Nora, COVID-19 hasn’t changed things too much for her.
“I still go for a walk in the morning and say hello to the neighbours along the way and I still catch a bus into town to get my groceries or get a lift from the neighbours if they offer.”
“I haven’t been worried or upset about the restrictions. I love my home and I’ve made it a nice and comfortable place,” said Nora.
Jigsaws, cleaning, gardening and walking is how Nora has been spending her time during COVID-19.
“I’ve just started a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle filled with animals, birds and butterflies and I’m planning to get out in the garden and plant some new plants in Spring.”
“I have a little garden out the back and I like to spend time there and keep it looking nice,” said Nora.
One thing Nora has missed during COVID-19 is her volunteer work at YellowBridge charity shop in Toowoomba every Saturday morning.
“I have some wonderful friends I’ve met through the volunteer work. When I work there, I teach a young person with a disability how to use the cash register.”
“I love being with people and giving something, and if I get something back, it’s bonus. It’s all about giving, caring and sharing” said Nora.
Nora said she’s looking forward to getting back to her Saturday work when she can, but for now, she’s keeping her community connections with her neighbours, family and Housing Service Centre staff.
“My daughter will pop around to give me a lift to the shops if I need and the neighbours are lovely and will help out too.”
“I also had a visit from Simon from the Toowoomba Housing Service Centre recently and it’s always nice to see him,” said Nora.
Neighbours create caring community
Public housing tenants, Harold and Gloria are great neighbours. Find out how they have formed a caring community in their unit complex.
Since I came here about a bit over four years now, and we saw one another out there, introduced ourselves, I’m Harold, I’m Gloria and we go from there.
When Harold come, I said oh well you all know where I live, and if you need anything just howl. Because Harold lives right at the back of mine and if I can hear him always moving around, you know, I know he’s alright.
We always, when we see one another, we say hello, we’re there, we have a little chat.
It’s just knowing that there’s a lot of people around you when you’re on your own, that if anything happens and they don’t see you around, they’ll come looking.
Because we’re very friendly towards one another, we know someone’s there. In case something happens, we’re there to help one another.
I’ve got Michael who’s in a wheelchair too, I try to cook a couple of meals for him now and again. The lady underneath has got dementia, and if the Blue Care don’t get there, I just make her sandwiches and that. So, I mean if we all help each other like that, you haven’t got to worry.
No place like home when you have great neighbours
Public housing tenant, Michele loves living in her home. Find out how neighbours make a difference in her life.
Yeah, I’ve been here some twenty years now.
When I first came in to see the place, I took one look and… I’m home.
Everyone was just so friendly.
I have regular morning tea on Wednesdays. We do sit there and really enjoy each other’s company.
I really do love living here. It’s peaceful.
Barry’s green thumb brings joy
Public housing tenant, Barry has a green thumb and a garden full of surprises. What makes it so special? Check out his video.
Originally when I came here there was a few plants, but I decided to put in a vegetable garden in here.
There’s a lemonade tree just there and we have had some lemonades.
But only to eat. We haven’t had enough to make jam out of.
But the papaya, I have made papaya jam. I ended up with about 150 papayas last season that it fruited.
I have bought some plants here. One’s a mulberry. I’ve already had a couple of batches of them.
I have a passionfruit vine. When I get so many of them, I pass them out to different people.
I have also made passionfruit jam and I freeze it and use it for different things like icing.
So, it’s become quite an edible garden and when I make pickles, I need a lot of tomatoes. So, in here I’ve got a heap of tomatoes.
I also have some rosemary and sage and some of the other products that I’ve been growing.
It’s something I just enjoy…I’ve got a green thumb. But it’s not just for me, it’s for everyone in the whole complex.
Mark’s home creates positive change and purpose
Moving to Mount Gravatt has helped go-getter and public housing tenant, Mark, realise his goals and given him a greater sense of purpose.
From his home, Mark is carving out the next exciting chapter in his life, studying at university, connecting with friends and turning his keen interest in computers into a business.
“I’m halfway through a Master of Cybersecurity Systems,” he says.
“I’d been wanting to go back to uni for a while and I built up the motivation and did it, and I’m really enjoying it.
“Moving to this place has allowed me to study again and has given me a purpose in life.”
Mark has a degenerative condition which means that he is no longer able to use his arms or legs and uses a wheelchair to mobilise.
“Living in Mount Gravatt means that it only takes about 10 minutes to get to uni now,” he says.
“My old place was just too far away. It would take me two and a half hours to travel to uni and my friends would complain about the distance.
“Moving to my home in Mount Gravatt has brought me many positive changes.”
Mark had previously lived in the area for 35 years.
“It’s good to be back – I feel at home and like the sense of community connection,” he says.
“And now my mates are always coming over!”
For Mark, his unit is more than just a place to relax.
“I like living here,” he says.
“I’m set up in the second bedroom with my computer so I can study, work on my computer business and even have clients visit.
“It’s also nice to be able to just go out on the balcony, and with the tree coverage it feels really private.
“The unit is in a pretty good location, here you’re close to the shops, so we can pop out for a coffee or even head to the pub for lunch.”
In Mount Gravatt, Mark is close to the services he needs – from doctors to his care company.
“Having my mates close by really helps too and I know I can always rely on them,” Mark says.
“I wouldn’t mind if there were a few extra coffee shops around though!” he smiles.
Design innovation supports independence
Public housing tenant, Susan found her independence the day she moved into her wheelchair accessible unit in Townsville. She moved from the family home almost 2 years ago, allowing her to make a home of her own, develop friendships within the community and with neighbours nearby.
Susan uses a wheelchair for mobility and receives assistance through the NDIS to support her independent living.
Her mother, Lynne says that moving to the unit has made a big difference in Susan’s life.
“The unit is wonderful. Susan continues to flourish and expand her social networks now she has her own home,”says Lynne.
Susan’s unit is designed to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines Platinum Level standard which means it has wider doorways and hallways, extra clearance space, level access in the bathroom and no step down onto the balcony. Susan is happy she can move about her home with ease.
“The design features make it easy to live in my home without falling and the bedrooms are really spacious”, says Susan.
The unit complex has 8 Platinum Level units and 8 Gold Level units.
Overall, Susan says the move to her home has been a wonderful experience.
“My ragdoll rescue cat, Molly loves living in this unit as do I.”
“The location is great, it’s got a large shopping centre close by, there’s a bus stop right in front of the units and the Riverway is across the road, where lots of festivals and events happen” says Susan.
“My neighbours and I go across to some of the festivals and I help Bevan, one of my neighbours, water the gardens within the complex and take out the bins on bin day.”
“One of the best things about having my own home has been the friendships I’ve developed with neighbours and people I’ve met at my local gym.”
“I have friends I can call on if I get worried, if I need support or want some company”, Susan says.
When you ask experienced vegetable gardener Alan what his planting advice is, he says with a smile “talk to them nicely”.
Alan grew up on a farm in Toowoomba with 11 brothers and sisters. With that many mouths to feed, his mum became an expert in growing vegetables.
“Mum had a 12-month supply of potatoes. I learned a lot from her about gardening,” Alan said.
Alan now lives next door to his childhood home.
“Back then, it was farmland. There were dairy cows on this block. I used to take them down the road before school so they could have some water, and then I’d bring them back up after school,” Alan said.
Alan now spends most of his time in his garden, which is filled with an assortment of vegetables, some quite unusual.
“I had a New Guinea bean growing at one stage. They grow very long if you leave them, and I remember once walking up the road carrying a bean, and my neighbour saw it and said, ‘that’s not a bean, it’s a baseball bat’,” Alan laughed.
Alan’s most challenging vegetable to grow is the little-known cucamelon.
“It’s a Mexican gherkin. I didn’t like that one very much,” Alan said.
“For the past few years, I’ve also been growing the chia plant.”
At first glance, Alan’s chia plant does not look particularly appealing, but it produces an edible seed that is known for its nutrients.
“You just rub your fingers on the dried flower head and all of the seeds fall off, ready to eat,” Alan said.
Alan also produces his own mulch and worm castings.
“I find gardening very relaxing, and it means I’m doing something useful and productive with my time,” Alan said.
Some people garden for fun, for exercise or to keep their surroundings neat and tidy. For Greg, gardening has meant so much more.
For years, public housing tenant Greg, has nurtured his magnificent garden at his home in Morayfield, a haven of birdlife, flowers, vegetables and garden projects which he has created with his support workers Sally and Lilly.
Greg suffered a major head injury in a car accident many years ago, but this hasn’t stopped him from living a full life in his community.
Gardening has been a part of Greg’s life since he was young, growing up on a farm. Since then he has worked and volunteered as a landscaper in many organisations.
When Greg realised that a gardening club for people with a disability didn’t exist, Greg and his support worker Lilly decided to start their own. The gardening club has been running at the Caboolture Special School for almost 2 years, and through this, Greg has inspired and educated many young students
It was important for Greg to have a place where you weren’t judged, and he has created this through the garden club. Every fortnight students gather at the school to create gardening projects together and create community. Through the process he has inspired many young people with a disability and helped them realise that anything is possible.
Greg says the best thing about gardening is planting seeds and watching the plants grow.
“I like to give back to nature and my community,” says Greg.
When Jo was living in a nursing home because of an Airforce accident, she was just living. But 18 years ago, when she moved into her home in Ipswich, she made a life, and this brought her freedom and flowers.
One of Jo’s favourite places in her home is her garden. Filled with beautiful and multi-coloured roses, it is easy to see that this space brings her a lot of joy.
“I love roses”, said Jo. “When I was growing up we were not allowed to plant roses and now that I’m in my own place, I can plant whatever flowers I like.”
“When I was in a nursing home, I couldn’t have a garden and I couldn’t have my dogs with me, so when I got into this home, it changed my life.”.
“This place has brought me freedom and my garden brings me so much peace and enjoyment”, said Jo.
With the help of the department’s occupational therapists, Jo was able to have her home modified to suit her needs, with lower benchtops, lower oven, a pulley system and a higher toilet to accommodate her wheelchair.
Jo moves around her home with ease but loves spending a lot of time in her garden, especially in the lead up to the My Home Awards. Jo enjoys the competition, not just for the pleasure of gardening, but for the social interaction at the awards ceremony.
“The My Home Awards are great, they give you a chance to get out, talk to fellow tenants and see what other people are doing in their gardens, the ceremony is really lovely”, Jo said.
Jo is looking forward to this year’s My Home Awards and will be on track with the supervision from her two German Shepherds, ICE and Finn.
“These two keep me company and love being outdoors while I’m in the garden. I’m really looking forward to this year’s My Home Awards”, said Jo.
For West End resident, Mui, gardening hasn’t just produced fruit and vegetables, it has also provided great friendships and a strong connection to her community.
Mui has lived in her public housing unit in West End for 32 years and says that the garden she tends is one of the best things about living there.
“I love nurturing my garden and seeing it flourish. Even though I don’t own my home, my kids have grown up here and I have some great neighbours, so it feels like my home.”
Mui grows all kinds of produce in the communal garden including her favourites, soursop and guava. It was through her love of gardening, that Mui formed a strong friendship with local café owners, Zoey and Thao, and Daryl, a regular customer at the local café.
“We are like her adopted daughters.”
“Mui is very kind and sometimes she will leave bananas and other produce at the back of the café for us,” said Zoey.
Mui also gives her neighbours fruit and vegetables and other homemade products and has developed a connection with them too.
“My neighbours and I help each other out and I give them produce from the garden, that’s one of the great things about living in this community” said Mui.
Daryl, a regular at the café and a good friend of Mui’s, helps her garden grow by providing coffee grounds that he collects from coffee shops in the local area.
“Mui has an amazing garden and I provide coffee grounds to help her keep her garden looking great,” said Daryl.
In addition to the coffee grounds and the love and care she provides to her garden, Mui says that the secret to her thriving garden is putting chicken manure for the first layer, food scraps for the second layer and then grass clippings for the final layer to prevent any smell.
Meet Lyn, a public housing tenant and volunteer who is making a big difference in her community.
Lyn volunteers one day a week at the Riding for Disabled centre on the Gold Coast where she teaches children how to ride horses.
Lyn became a volunteer after a bout of depression and says volunteering helped her through a really difficult time.
“I was isolated, I didn’t get out and visit friends much,” Lyn says. “A friend suggested I help out at the riding school, and I loved it.”
“Being there made me feel needed and lifted me out of the depression because I was fulfilling a role. If I didn’t do that I would be sitting at home whereas going there, I’ve got friends, the kids, the horses.”
Not only has volunteering helped Lyn, but her work also helps others.
“Being with the horses and helping the kids was amazing because you see the changes that happen. Some of these kids say their first words when they’re on a horse. It’s such a buzz.”
Lyn says that anyone can volunteer, and you don’t need specific skills or abilities.
“You make lots of friends, and you learn a lot. Volunteering is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
I went through an episode of depression because I was isolated, I didn’t get out and visit friends much.
I ended up having to go through intensive therapy, and the lady who was doing that with me suggested that I find something to volunteer at.
One of my friends knew about Riding for Disabled and I loved it.
Being with the horses and helping the kids was amazing because you see the changes that happen. Some of these kids say their first words when they’re on a horse. It’s a real buzz.
Our little centre is very much family orientated. Being there made me feel needed and lifted me out of the depression because I was fulfilling a role. If I didn’t do that I’d be sitting at home, whereas being out there I’ve got friends out there, you know, the kids the horses.
Volunteering is the best thing that has ever happened to me. There’s many different types of volunteering out there, you don’t have any qualifications because we actually teach you on the job.
You meet lots of friends along the way, and you learn a lot.
100% it’ll change your life.
Age is no barrier for new neighbours
Josh and Debbie met in their social housing complex in Toowoomba and have become firm friends, despite their age difference.
They are a great source of support for each with Debbie appreciating the fact she can rely on Josh when she needs help.
Debbie said that she has some health problems and that she can always count on Josh when she needs help.
“Josh is a good kid. He helps get my medication, rings and checks that I’m okay and makes me meals from time to time. My favourite meal is his curried sausages,” Debbie said.
Josh feels the same about Debbie, describing her as his “adopted Mum”.
“I didn’t really have a mother figure in my life, but since meeting Debbie, that has changed,” Josh said.
“She is a great person to talk to and gives me really good advice.”
With Neighbour Day on Sunday 31 March, both Josh and Debbie understand the value of having a good neighbour.
“A good neighbour is respectful and caring and willing to lend a hand if they can see someone needs help,” said Debbie.
“I know one of my other neighbours has been struggling recently and doesn’t have much money, so I check in on him and make sure he has enough groceries for the week.”
“I like helping people and it’s a nice thing to do,” said Josh.
“I check on the neighbours to make sure they are okay and help out if they need it.”
Josh and Debbie regularly catch up for cuppas and share laughs together. They also have a lot in common like having pet birds.
Debbie’s parrot “Squeak” and Josh’s cockatiel “Lily” have also become friends.
“Our birds love talking to each other when they are outside and have become great friends too,” said Debbie.
Find out about other tips on being a good neighbour at the Neighbour Day website.
Noel’s life has changed a lot in the last few years.
A long-term resident of a public housing complex at Kingston, Noel was at a loose end at home with not much to do and hadn’t earned an income in years.
Noel was supported through the Spark program, a job readiness initiative for public housing tenants in Logan, funded by the department. Through Spark, Noel was supported to get his Cert III in Driving Ops and passed his Medium Rigid Truck Driving Test.
The Upper Ross Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Group is running a successful scrapbooking project for local women living in public housing.
The women’s group brings together local women to talk, share and socialise with each other. Participants face many common challenges including loneliness, financial stress and being affected by anti-social behaviour.
As part of TenantConnect, the department funded the Upper Ross Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Group to deliver the scrapbooking project.
Through the project, women in the group gather together and create stories using words and pictures.
To mark the theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week 2018 celebrations, Because of Her, We Can! group members celebrated the contributions of Indigenous women by creating scrapbooks about their own personal journeys and those of the women who inspire them.
A short video will also be produced, featuring the women’s group to capture their oral stories. This video is being made with Community Gro, a not-for-profit organisation based in Townsville.
Spark Program – supporting tenants on a pathway to employment
In partnership with local community provider YFS Ltd, the Logan Housing Service Centre is supporting tenants to overcome barriers and work towards training and employment goals. Noel is a participant of the Spark program that helps public housing tenants realise their work and life aspirations.
Noel has been supported to get his Cert III in Driving Ops and has passed his Medium Rigid Truck Driving Test – an important achievement that has opened Noel’s eyes to the opportunities available to him in his local community.
Once a tenant who rarely ventured out of his house, Noel now has a new lease on life. Armed with his new qualification, Noel has been volunteering at local recycling plant Substation 33 and has been actively looking for work in the local area.
At her Wynnum home, Georgie Suttie has created a sanctuary of tropical plants and birdsong.
Over the years, Georgie has lovingly shaped her garden into a shady oasis of elk horns, ferns, bromeliads and her beloved grevilleas. Her garden is a labour of love which has brought her recognition and accolades in many categories of the department’s My Home Awards. Georgie has been entering the Awards since 1995. She has received commendations in categories including Practical Garden, Communal Garden, Environmentally-friendly Garden and New Garden.
Her front garden is a retreat for local magpies and lorikeets, which she happily feeds every afternoon. Grevilleas - which she planted specifically to attract the birds – take pride of place. Georgie has lived in her home for 37 years and during this time has made significant changes to the garden. Over the years she has landscaped the entire garden herself, digging, creating paths and laying rockery.
“I couldn’t have anyone help me because they wouldn’t do it the right way,” Georgie laughs.
Recently Georgie celebrated her 70th birthday so does less heavy lifting these days, but is still very active in the garden. It’s clear that Georgie’s garden brings her a lot of joy, and it’s a hobby she will continue for years to come.
“It gets me out of bed in the mornings. I just love it.”