Extra hours

NEIGHBOURHOOD houses across the region will open for longer hours and provide more services after the 2018/19 State budget announced a $21.8 million cash injection. 

The announcement comes after Neighourhood Houses Victoria staged a six-month campaign calling on the Andrews Government to fulfill funding promises it made during the 2014 State election.

The funding means a vital increase in the number of hours that neighbourhood houses can stay open, as well as an increase in services.

Pyramid Hill Neighbourhood House co-ordinator, Kylie Dowles said that the funding will make a huge difference to the small town and surrounding areas.

"It's a very positive thing and we really appreciate being listened to and heard," she said.

"For the community, one of the things we can do is open later on more than one night so that people who work or are coming from outside of town can access the internet, use the computers, study, or just receive services outside of [business] hours.

"We'll also have a significant amount of additional time to make a more meaningful impact in assisting the community." 

The $21.8 million investment across the neighbourhood house network will take the total of funded hours from 20 hours to 25 hours per week.

Mallee networker and Swan Hill Neighbourhood House co-ordinator, Lea Johnson said the funding increase was an acknowledgement by the government that neighbourhood houses played a pivotal role in communities.

"Historically, the rural networks are seriously underfunded and that is usually shown just by the distances we have to cover," she said.

The network Ms Johnson oversees covers an area of 40,000 square kilometres, which she said made providing adequate support "untenable".

"To cover that area, it doesn't make sense to be travelling on the funding we have," she said.

"This funding will allow for those positions to be better supported, and for more capacity to support houses in the Mallee." 

In a pre-budget campaign, Neighourhood Houses Victoria lobbied for increased coordination funding, an increase in the number of state government-funded houses in Victoria and an increase in the support for networks, and claimed that funding had not kept pace with rising operational costs and the demands of Victoria's increasing population. 

The total amount of funding being asked for was $72 million during a four-year period.

Ms Johnson said that they are used by approximately 198,000 people each week. 

Member for Northern Victoria, Mark Gepp described neighbourhood houses as "the heart of any community."

"This is a boost that will have a real impact on all those connected to neighbourhood houses, whether it be their staff, their volunteers or the people that visit them," he said.

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