Families in Robinvale Euston access the right services via English Conversation Classes 

The Robinvale English Language Café is a partnership between Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council (SMECC), The Robinvale Euston Workforce Network (REWN) and Our Place Robinvale.

The weekly classes are held at the Robinvale Resource Centre, a Swan Hill Rural City Council (SHRCC) venue. In excess of 160 referrals have been made since the program began in March 2023, leading to real change in the lives of more than 45 families.

Our Place Community Facilitators Amanda Healy and Laura Masasso have assisted with the delivery of the classes SMECC to provide a place for participants who want to practice their English skills in a safe and inclusive environment.

“Robinvale is unique as we are very diverse culturally with 52 languages spoken. People come here because there is so much work, mainly in farming and horticulture. There’s always new people arriving, but through the conversation classes, I’ve actually met people that have lived here for 50 years that are only just now learning the English language or accessing different services within the community,” Amanda said.

Through the classes Amanda and Laura got to know more about the community members and were able to start building relationships.

“The conversation flows from there. You then hear their stories. They might say something to you like ‘I’m struggling with this’,” Amanda said.

“I’ve got a lot I can help with, and because of that knowledge in our role and we know a lot of what’s available for these individuals,” she said.

“We can often support them directly or point them in the right direction through warm referral.”

Support has been provided in resume writing, job opportunities, free driving lessons, getting a working with children’s check, enrolling for preschool, swimming lessons, physiotherapy, converting overseas qualifications.

In the first two weeks of term one alone, families have been referred to Yoga, Aqua Aerobics, the Tafe Skills and Jobs Van to explore free Tafe, playgroups, Robinvale Euston Football Club, Robinvale Basketball Association, community cooking, community garden, the library, SHRCC, Service NSW bus, Early years online hub and more.

Other referrals include Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters, mobile visiting play program, after school and vacation care and accessing study in Cert 3 Early Childhood Education.

Robinvale District Health Services (RDHS) and Murray Valley Aboriginal Co-operative (MVAC) provide healthcare and long day care services are also popular referral points.

It has taken Amanda and Laura by surprise the ability to make so many referrals to help so many families in such a short space of time.

“It’s an unexpected outcome of the conversation classes… and shows that conversations can bring about change. It is significant because we know that families who are engaging in the school community, are accessing services and getting the supports they need will mean greater outcomes in education for their children,” Amanda said.  

How this work makes a difference to people’s lives.

Amanda met a local parent who did not speak English well and was socially isolated. During the conversation classes she began to share her story with Amanda.

“She didn’t know a lot of people and we were able to engage her in cooking and gardening programs at the College. We got her a working with children’s check and supported her with her resume. We have referred her to driving lessons and have supported her to apply for her first job.

“She’s actually leading cooking classes and teaching us things that we don’t know and teaching other participants.

“She’s growing so much confidence she’s actually bringing other people to the classes and encouraging them.

“It’s connection, it’s creating community connection at a deeper level.”

Achieving structural change

“We’ve been working alongside early years at Robinvale District Health Service on creating an expressions of interest form for people who wish to go ahead and study a certificate 3 or diploma in early childhood education and care,” Amanda said.

“The reason for this is we’d like to advocate for additional classes to be held in Robinvale. People have to travel to major town, or the other option is online, which isn’t always doable for some people.

“We’ve currently got employees traveling an hour each way from Mildura to come and work here at the preschool.

“So, we’ve been able to sign up six people from the English Conversation classes and all up we have  26 community members on this expression of interest form.

We’re still working on increasing that number so we can present it and hopefully get the ball rolling on classes here because we have a real shortage in that sector of employees.”