Community festival aims to challenge negative perceptions of Bellambi

The community of Bellambi will come together tomorrow (Wednesday 12 September) for the first Festival of Community Mapping, an initiative that uses visual arts to encourage residents to challenge negative perceptions of their suburb.

The one-day festival is part of a research project from the University of Wollongong (UOW) that is working to challenge the stigmatisation of Bellambi, which is at odds with the pride felt by the majority of its residents.

Spearheaded by Associate Professor Kate Senior, from UOW’s Faculty of Social Sciences, the project uses visual arts and community mapping to celebrate the strength and support of the local community.

Located in Wollongong’s north, Bellambi is a suburb with a low socioeconomic status, surrounded by more affluent areas such as Bulli, Thirroul, and Woonona. In the 2011, it was considered one of the most disadvantaged areas in the Illawarra.

Professor Senior, who has been working with Bellambi Neighbourhood Centre for more than two years, said the project enables Bellambi’s residents to share the warm, whimsical, and welcoming parts of their home through arts-based storytelling.

When she initially began working with local high school students who visit the neighbourhood centre, Professor Senior found they were fiercely proud of their suburb and excited at the opportunity to express their love for their community.

“Since I began working in Bellambi, I’ve found that the residents’ perceptions of their community conflict with outsiders’ perceptions, which are largely negative. Every time you see something about Bellambi in the media, it is inevitably bad. The community is a scapegoat for everything negative in the Illawarra, but I wanted to share a different view,” Professor Senior said.

“We’ve been working with students who come to Bellambi Neighbourhood Centre and we’ve trained them in interview techniques, note-taking, and research, and they’ve had to go out into the community and collect stories about what makes Bellambi special.”

During the Bellambi Festival of Community Mapping residents will create a Bellambi Master Map, which will be used to tell the stories of the area and form the basis of an upcoming exhibition.

The project draws upon the talents of UOW’s third-year design students who have created the promotional materials for the event, using the new tagline, Be Bellambi, and will transform the completed map into a short, animated film.

Professor Senior said one of the key aims is to empower the community’s younger residents through job-ready skills and exposure to the impact of higher education.

“We are committed to the young people of Bellambi. We want to explore their aspirations for themselves and for their community,” she said.

The Bellambi project is funded by the McKinnon Walker Trust, which was established in 2016 following a $1.3 million endowment to the University from former Vice-Chancellor Emeritus Professor Ken McKinnon and UOW alumna Ms Suzanne Walker.

UOW’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings CBE distributes the trust annually, with the aim of supporting new projects that will have a positive social and economic impact.

Professor McKinnon was the second Vice-Chancellor of UOW, serving from 1981 until his retirement in 1995, while Ms Walker graduated from the University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1985.

“The core goal is to foster widespread commitment to innovation and be a particular avenue of support for excellence,” Professor McKinnon said at the time.

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