The Core of Care


The Thornbury Women’s Neighbourhood House (TWNH), based in the Melbourne suburb of Thornbury, provides a range of services that focus on a welcoming, safe, friendly and supportive community environment.

As part of their commitment to providing solutions to assist women, they offer the No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS). But it’s more than the simple delivery of loans.

“We make the program (NILS) a lot about the relationships we can establish between the applicant and ourselves. Once we learn a little bit about whatever the situation may be with the applicant, being able to find whatever resources or things might also be helpful to them besides just a loan,” says Ruth Mangion, a volunteer with TWNH.

Upon entering TWNH, the focus upon nurturing relationships strikes one as profound. Calming, cohesive and caring, TWNH’s tag-line, helping women help themselves, highlights their approach to their community. Mairi Rowan, a retired community development worker and Psychotherapist who also volunteers at TWNH suggests that the TWNH “connectedness can become their (clients) connectedness. This house is well connected in the community. We might not have exactly what they want, but we can put them in touch with someone so they can go away knowing that someone’s interested, that they matter and they have back up, if they need it.”

NILS works through a process of Circular Community Credit; when a borrower makes a repayment to a NILS program, funds are then available as a loan for someone else in the community. “Circular Community Credit matters because very often people who are on very low incomes, and particularly women, always feel like they are charity cases. The idea of Circular Community Credit enables them to feel that they’re contributing, that they have a share of the responsibility and are contributing to making it work for other women like them,” Mairi insists. “That’s a position of dignity and self-respect”.

But poverty is complex. The recent 2012 Centre for Social Inclusion report, Measuring Financial Exclusion in Australia, suggests that 2,995,000, or 17.2% of Australian adults are either fully or severely excluded from accessing financial products and services. Euphemia Russell, the NILS coordinator at TWNH, is measured in her response as to the impact of NILS. “I think poverty is going to occur and be present irrespective of what we do. NILS does, though, provide resources and ways of managing that situation so it’s not as oppressive.”

And Mairi agrees. “The loan is in the context of making a difference in a person’s life, so it’s a contribution. It’s the relationships that we make, in the context of interviewing for loans and following up and supporting people, that makes the difference.”

Some of this difference comes in the form of financial education and introducing clients to financial information about themselves that may not have been addressed before attending TWNH. “It’s surprising how many people don’t realise that, until a budget is put in front of them, it cements, visually, how their finances are working,” says Ruth. “They think about that and then they implement that and they’re very eager to know about different kinds of accounts or savings programs and different things that they can be doing with their money.”

It’s true that financial inclusion in Australia needs attention. Also true, however, are the remarkable things that enterprising community organisations like TWNH are doing to link many into the picture and vision of a fair and equitable Australia. As Euphemia asserts, “we are an essential link to allowing people to carry themselves with dignity and pride in the way that they are living despite their circumstances.”

We couldn’t agree more, Euphemia.


Visit the Thornbury Women's Neighbourhood House at:

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