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A tale of two webs: A strengths-based approach to place-based disadvantage

  • 14 December 2021
  ‘When you’re not given the same opportunities as everyone else and you’re told from an early age that because of where you’re from that you’re less of a person and you’re never going to amount to anything, then you don’t feel worthy of people’s attention.’ 

In her deeply personal contributions to the panel discussion at the launch of Jesuit Social Services report on place-based disadvantage, Dropping off the Edge 2021, my colleague Chandelle Wilson shared her reflections of being born and raised in pockets of entrenched disadvantage.

Some parts of Western Sydney, where Jesuit Social Services has worked alongside communities for more than a decade, remain deeply entrenched in disadvantage. The Statistical Area grouping of suburbs Bidwell, Hebersham and Emerton is one of the 10 most disadvantaged locations in New South Wales, and also ranked as highly disadvantaged in the 2007 and 2015 Dropping off the Edge reports. Mount Druitt and Whalan also ranked as highly disadvantaged in the last three reports.

In developing an understanding of place-based disadvantage, Chandelle explains that shame and stigma are transmitted between generations within the small number of communities we collectively fail. And yet no matter the number of indicators of place-based disadvantage, each community possesses some unique strengths. 

She describes this as a ‘tale of two webs’.

The first is the ‘web of disadvantage’, which includes environmental and lifetime disadvantage indicators, including heat stress, poor air quality, access to nature reserves, teenage pregnancies and children in homes where no parent is in paid work. These indicators demonstrate that the web of disadvantage is becoming ever more complex and gnarly, while the communities experiencing the most severe and entrenched disadvantage remain the same.

And yet despite the tangling threads of this web of disadvantage, Chandelle continues to live, give, work, and raise her family in her local community in Western Sydney. ‘It is a bright tapestry of amazing people from different backgrounds who get in and help each other when times are tough,’ Chandelle says. She describes this system of mutual support as the ‘web of strength’.

'Early successes allow us to imagine new ways of working towards a more socially just society for people in places like Willmot where place-based disadvantage can be addressed and overcome.'

Any new approaches to place-based work led by communities in partnership with government would do well to recognise these inherent strengths and resilience within the community and use them as a starting point.

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