01 Oct 2019

Local Heroes, Local Knowledge

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What our community recognition and engagement program has taught us about our customers and communities


Through his organisation, Rap 4 Change, Ned uses a love of music to build connections with young people and help them tackle issues such as substance abuse, self-harm, bullying and racism with positive influences in music, sport and creativity.

“It’s all about encouraging young people to make positive choices in their lives, and showing them it can be done,” says Ned, who was himself released from juvenile detention at the age of 17.

Over in Auckland, New Zealand, domestic violence survivor Anita Hinton has created I Got Your Back Pack (IGYBP), a charity which provides backpacks filled with essential items so women and children have something of their own in a time of need.

“I work as a cleaner to live and eat, but my passion is IGYBP and being a positive role model for my daughter,” says Hinton

“It’s what we do that defines us, not what happens to us.”

In its four years of existence, IGYPB has distributed 2500 backpacks to women in need, and has been averaging 300 a month in 2019, with packs distributed throughout NZ.

Anita and Ned might work in different areas and in different countries, but one thing they have in common is that they have both been recognised as 2019 Westfield Local Heroes, Scentre Group’s community recognition and engagement program.

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In the outer Sydney suburb of Mount Druitt, Ned Narouz is using rap music to inspire young people who have experienced contact with the juvenile justice system.

Scentre Group announced 121 Westfield local heroes today – three for each of its operating centres - all of whom will receive up to $10,000 to help their community-based organisation or project grow and thrive. Westfield Local Heroes are nominated and voted for by their local communities.  

Scentre Group Director, Customer Experience, Phil McAveety, said this year’s 121 Westfield Local Heroes received more than 107,000 community votes from across Australia and New Zealand.

“The program is designed to discover and celebrate people who are doing great things in our communities,” he says.

“And for us, it all comes back to our purpose of creating extraordinary places, connecting and enriching communities. The program recognises that our centres are that third place for people, outside of the people’s homes, workplaces or places of study and they are a social hub for our communities.”

McAveety explains that each of the Local Heroes are community focused with locally based activities designed to “create a sense of inclusion.”

“We often find that the causes and organisations that our Heroes are so passionate about align with the social fabric of the local community in which we are operating our living centres every day.

“This means the program gives us some really valuable insights into what makes that community tick and what’s most important to our customers in that particular community.”

In 2018, 117 inaugural Heroes received grants totalling $1.17 million, after 1037 nominations and over 77,000 votes cast from members of the public. Many of these 2018 Local Heroes are already noticing the impact of being recognised by the program.

Paulo De Nobrega, who operates the Sutherland Titans Football Club in the Shire district south of Sydney, was one such 2018 Westfield local hero.

The Titans are a team of players, all with special needs, who play regular games against association teams which have a “bye’ from regular competition.

“Westfield Local Heroes has been a lifeline,” says Paulo. “We now have some financial security which is very different to previous years.”

The $10,000 Local Heroes grant enabled the Titans to purchase an on-site defibrillator, along with a drinks fridge and new goal posts.

Another 2018 hero was NZ-based Robyn Twemlow, who received $10,000 for her annual Camp Twitch event, which brings people with Tourette’s Syndrome together in a safe and welcoming environment.

She says being a Westfield Local Hero represents “awesome acceptance” and recognition from the wider community and has been crucial in helping Camp Twitch with its growth and momentum.

Robyn’s daughter was diagnosed with Tourette’s at the age of nine, and she then formed Camp Twitch to connect with others, offering a friendly ear to families and people with the Syndrome.

The high point came when a boy who attended one of the camp’s nominated Robyn as his hero in a school writing exercise.

“He said going to Camp Twitch was the first time he’d felt normal and not different,” says Robyn.

“That really touched me and made all the hard work worthwhile.”

Westfield Local Heroes entrants do not have to be registered charities. They can simply be individuals with passionate and innovative ideas for making a local contribution.

The majority of nominated individuals are running small programs for which the $10,000 prize money has significantly more impact than it might have for other, larger organisations.

Even if entrants are not ultimately grant recipients, they are promoted through Scentre Group’s digital assets and publicity as part of the voting process, which helps raise their profile and that of their programs, causes and activities. Research conducted with the 2018 program participants found they see high value in the promotion the program generates for their work and their organisations.

Of the 2018 successful Local Heroes, 96% agree the program ‘helps community organisations grow’, and 91% agree it helps ‘connects people with services and programs they may not have otherwise known about’.

Meanwhile, 98% said they experienced positive impacts, such as increased motivation, work ethic and pride, as a result of being named a Westfield Local Hero.

For Scentre Group, the program is an important way to deepen engagement with its local communities and gain a better understanding of local issues.

“It connects us with grassroots issues - from domestic violence to accessibility for people with disability - and gives us the opportunity to work with people to address them through our centres,” McAveety says.

“That engagement then helps make our Living Centres more inclusive, welcoming and connected places for everyone.”

While the work of all nominees spans a broad spectrum of social values, those causes that featured most highly in 2019 were support and networks for parents and families, people with disabilities, mental health and providing opportunities for at-risk or disengaged youth to thrive and become positive contributors to the local community. The Local Heroes program also makes a contribution to engagement among Scentre Group’s employees, where it enjoys significant support.

“A lot of our people tell us that this is one of those programs that gets them out of bed and motivated,” says McAveety.

“They love being a part of this, and they’re proud that we’re doing it.”

For a full list of our Australian and New Zealand 2019 Westfield Local Heroes visit https://www.westfield.com.au/local-heroes and https://www.westfield.co.nz/local-heroes.

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