Since the My New Neighbour campaign was launched in February activists have been working on getting councils to show local leadership and pass a motion in favour of community sponsorship. This month we have seen another 3 councils, Inner City and Canterbury Bankstown in NSW and Yarra City in Victoria, join the call for an expanded and improved community sponsorship program, taking the total to 13 councils to date.
Whilst these council wins are phenomenal and incredibly important, activists know that to really change the public perception of refugees and grow the spirit of welcome they need to encourage and build large scale community engagement and support.
The Maroochydore group have been doing just that. Here the group’s convener Ruth Creffield and campaign coordinators Nina Ashfield-Crook and Kathryn Allan share the work they have been doing to make this change a reality.
We devised a plan
A goal is indeed to get the council to pass a motion but we wanted to build significant public support from our local community first. We wanted to also get positive media stories out there to change perspectives on refugees and people seeking asylum as our area has a lot of negative views on this issue.
Our approach was to map our community and scope out other community groups working on refugee rights in our area as well as identify key local leaders and influencers to target. We continue to update our ‘community map’ as we progress.
We set about building relationships and partnerships
We decided that building relationships and partnerships was crucial to our success so we decided to create a coalition with the other refugee focused community groups. We communicate regularly via email and have monthly joint meetings. Many of the groups were already working on refugee welcome zones so we came up with a joint plan that supports and serves all of our goals.
We made a petition for the refugee welcome zone and asked the groups to also push the My New Neighbour petition. Each group is focused on working collecting actions on these petitions as well as asking local businesses and groups to sign the proposal.
In addition to these critical partnerships we have started to contact our identified key local influencers and have been asking them for their support. We recently had huge success in meeting with the Anglican Church Archbishop of the Sunshine Coast who agreed to join the campaign and is spreading awareness on the issue throughout his diocese (from North Brisbane to Bundaberg).
We got out in the community and engaged with new audiences
We recognised the need to be seen out in our community and to talk to as many people as possible. We also knew that we needed to be able to demonstrate the support we are building so collecting signatures on the petition is important to our plan. Our first community engagement was a market stall at a local festival – where we collected over 200 signatures as well as meeting key local contacts. Most of our group have My New Neighbour information and the petition printed, carefully placed in tea rooms, workplaces and their homes. We never miss a chance to have a quick chat with those around us and get them on board with the campaign.
We are really focused on the fact that every conversation has the power to make a difference, to challenge and change perceptions. Our group are fantastic at doing this at market stalls, attending community events to chat to people and as we go about our day-to-day lives.
We are currently working on an exciting event for August to hopefully expose the campaign to new audiences. The event is Paws Next Door – This is an event for dogs and their humans to join us in conversations about multiculturalism and community sponsorship. We will have a dog parade and are planning to offer puppy portraits for dog owners to get a photo with their dog and pledge their support for the ‘My New Neighbour’ campaign. We are hoping this will put a positive spin on what we’re trying to achieve with the campaign and further challenge the perspectives of our often conservative community.
We never miss an opportunity to give a story to the Media
We made sure media was part of our strategy from the start so of course we never miss a chance to send out a media release to our local papers. To date we have had 2 published media stories. One was about refugee welcome zones and contained stories of local people who have meaningful connections with local refugees. The other was an opinion piece about My New Neighbour. We have been invited to contribute further opinion pieces to the Sunshine Coast Daily.
Sadly our opinion piece online was misrepresented. Even though the piece about the My New Neighbour campaign was written carefully using the ‘words that work’ framework from the ASRC. The newspaper’s online team used our piece as click bait on their Facebook page by changing the headline to “opening the flood gates” and they did not allow free access to the actual article in the post. Therefore the piece received negative comments by people who did not even get to read the full article. But we see this simply as an opportunity because every challenge is a lesson, and a win just around the corner.
We are dedicated to and focused on our plan
We love to connect each event to our broader goals, so we make sure to make meaningful connections that help us to build relationships in our community with key stakeholders and leaders. Our community is very conservative and thus it is really important that we start to open their eyes to the wider issues and raise awareness on the struggles as well as successes of refugees.
Because of the conservative environment we can’t get the major wins we are after without the public support so it is really important that we keep expanding our networks and starting conversations with different communities. Our community is our home, it’s important that we support each other, new neighbours and old. Community is integral to the campaign and getting them on board from the onset is essential to us, it’ll make the next few years a lot easier (we hope)!