Welcoming around 30 young people on an average day, The fOrT is a regional City-owned facility that provides free programs, freshly cooked meals and a safe space for young people to relax and socialise with others from the northern suburbs.
As well as promoting community connectedness, the centre gives young people a chance to develop skills and interests, and access alternative pathways to education and employment. It is also an important meeting place for several youth committees including the Multicultural Youth Leadership Committee, which actively plans and delivers cultural events across the municipality.
For 19-year-old, Liz Brilli, the centre is a great place because she can hang out, socialise and take part in the many activities on offer, such as drop-ins each weekday, art classes and the weekly pool comp.
“There are so many activities to do, lots of people to talk to and hang out with,” Liz said. “Everyone gets along together and, if we didn’t have The fOrT, we would miss the interaction and activities.”
Also a fan of the pool competition, Liz’s older brother, Mat, enjoys the welcoming environment The fOrT creates.
“[I like] being able to meet different people and socialising, especially after the pandemic, The fOrT has given young people a place to socialise somewhere that they feel safe,” Mat said.
A key feature that makes The fOrT stand out is its emphasis on involving young people in shaping the space and program. Young people are employed to work alongside youth workers at the centre and those that visit are also encouraged to lead the development of activities they’d like to take part in, such as the Activate Gym Program, Girls Only Drawn Together, Game On Evolved and the SKAART Community Festival.
“[The fOrT is] important because some young people don’t have a place to go and they can’t do activities because they don’t have the money,” Liz said.
They want somewhere safe and fun to hang out with their friends, have yummy meals and it's a centre just for young people. It's ours.
Establishing connections, whether that be with other young people, community groups or local organisations, is also an important and valuable outcome of the centre’s programs. In 2018, a futsal program created for young women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds was established between The fOrT and Leisuretime Sports Precinct to help young women learn the fundamentals of the game and support them to join local club soccer. This program, which ultimately aims to create stronger and more diverse sporting clubs, is set to resume in 2022.
The fOrT is not alone in the work it does with communities in the northern suburbs, as there are many initiatives driven by the community and us, including: the collaborative Regional Industry Sector Employment program connecting job seekers with construction industry employment opportunities; Norlane Community Initiatives’ social enterprise, The Aviary Cafe; and the Lotus Kitchen at Cloverdale Community Centre, providing connection and affordable meals to the community.
A recent report by Deakin University’s HOME Research Hub, in partnership with LCJ Research, highlighted the importance of programs like these. It also aimed to strengthen the City’s coordination, planning and leadership of combined social and economic development and to increase social equity and prosperity for communities in Corio, Norlane and Whittington.
The fOrT is located at the corner of Princes Highway and St Georges Road in Norlane. For more information, follow The fOrT on Facebook.