Blue Mountains community connections

22 MAY 2014

Charles Sturt University (CSU) research to identify, explore and address the needs of older and vulnerable people in the Blue Mountains of NSW will be launched at Springwood on Tuesday 27 May.

Burned house 1Charles Sturt University (CSU) research to identify, explore and address the needs of older and vulnerable people in the Blue Mountains of NSW will be launched at Springwood on Tuesday 27 May.

Dr Val Ingham, senior lecturer in emergency management at the CSU Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security, said, "Following the October 2013 bushfires in the Blue Mountains when residents' lives were disrupted for weeks and 200 homes were destroyed, a range of community vulnerabilities were identified.

"This research intends to develop strategies to connect community members and organisations in order to better plan for vulnerable and ageing populations both in day to day life and in times of future emergencies."

The research title is 'Community connections, older and vulnerable community members – identifying, exploring and addressing community needs within the Blue Mountains'. The research partners are Charles Sturt University, Blue Mountains City Council, Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre, and Springwood Neighbourhood Centre Cooperative Ltd.

The City of Blue Mountains straddles the mountain ridge in a 75 kilometre ribbon development serviced by one major arterial road and one main railway corridor. The City has a population of nearly 79 000 living in 33 348 dwellings scattered across 25 separate hamlets. The Blue Mountains has a higher proportion of people aged over 65 years than the rest of NSW and Australia (more than 11 700 individuals or 15.6 per cent of the Blue Mountains population), and there is a higher proportion of lone older person households (3 100, or 10.6 per cent of the Blue Mountains population).

Dr Ingham said, "Specific challenges arise for older, vulnerable and at risk members of the Blue Mountains community due to the natural geography and topography of the region, the known natural disaster risks (such as bushfires, earthquakes, severe weather storms), the ribbon development, demographic profile, and the variable public infrastructure.

"There are a number of contributors to vulnerability including living alone, low income, and unemployment. Other factors areageing, living with dementia, disability, chronic debilitating illness, and/or chronic mental health issues. In addition, social vulnerability or lack of social support increases overall vulnerability."

The research format consists of interviews, focus groups, and a postcard survey delivered with Blue Mountains City Council rates notices asking people about their neighbourhood connections. If people want to complete the survey but do not receive a rates notice they can access the survey at the neighbourhood centres, Council offices and libraries.

"This research will identify the needs of vulnerable community groups and inform strategies to develop and increase individual and community resilience during possible extended periods of isolation," Dr Ingham said. "These can arise, for example, from road closures and the halt of public transport due to natural disaster, lack of power during major outages, and situations arising from lack of connection to the wider community."We are especially interested to talk to vulnerable community members who are dealing with chronic illness or disability, frailty, and social isolation. The more we can find out about people's needs for social connection the more we can mobilise resources to help them. If you or people you know would be interested in taking part in the research you can contact your nearest neighbourhood centre and leave your details for the researchers to contact you."


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