Ability Links Community Connect DayIn April, 2015, the Ability Links Port Stephens and Dungog teams decided to hold an event for Social Inclusion Week. The team invited local community organisations and groups, businesses and general members of the community to express their interest in partnering with Ability Links to plan the event.

The team received more than 20 expressions of interest from a range of community members, groups and businesses. Over a period of six months, the Ability Links team facilitated regular working party meetings to plan and coordinate the event with the interested groups. Strong and positive partnerships were formed, and a collective vision was developed, with tonnes of creative ideas and optimism.

The event was called the ‘Community Connect Day’. It was envisioned as an all-abilities, free event to encourage people from Port Stephens to form connections within their local community, build networks and establish relationships to address issues of isolation and exclusion. It would involve food stalls, entertainment, face painting and other child-friendly activities such as a jumping castle, but most importantly there would be a large number of local community groups providing interactive stalls to showcase to the community what they are about and what’s on offer, and to make meaningful connections.

Event organisers were very conscious of ensuring the event as fully inclusive for people living with, and without disability.  Ability Links planned to create two ‘community connection corners’ to engage with people throughout the day. The event went ahead as planned and was a fantastic success, with an estimated 1500 people in attendance.

Many community groups reported having many people join their groups, or express an interest in joining their group in the future. On top of this, through Ability Links’ two ‘community connection corners’ the service attracted 14 new referrals.

The event was not only a great opportunity to promote social inclusion and connect the Port Stephens Community but was also a great opportunity for Ability Links to make some very solid partnerships with other community service organisations, groups and community members.

It is anticipated that these new partnerships will form the foundation for many future creative and inclusive community development projects in the Port Stephens Area. Already there are plans afoot for a second Community Connect Day in 2016 which will be entirely community-driven.