Community Development Project

Working and learning together with social housing communities

The UNSW Community Development Project (CDP) is a unique educational partnership between UNSW, social housing residents, Housing NSW, and local social service providers. The project was established in 1995 and currently works across four social housing estates including Redfern, Waterloo, South Coogee and Chifley.

The CDP team work with residents from highly diverse communities including Aboriginal communities, older people, people from culturally diverse communities, children and young people. Many of these residents experience chronic and cumulative levels of disadvantage.

Our current projects include community gardens, social well-being projects, food projects, art and educational groups and cultural activites. The CDP is also involved in a range of research initiatives.

Our objectives

The CDP works alongside residents and local agencies, to build on the strengths and capacities of people living in social housing neighbourhoods and to bring about changes in local issues that matter most to residents.

Our objectives are to:

  • encourage community participation
  • respond to community needs and priorities
  • identify projects, resources and assist in their coordination
  • provide learning opportunities for students
  • encourage collaboration with other communities and organisations

Contact us

View our current projects

Our approach

The CDP takes a community development approach that aims to build capacity amongst residents, and develop sustainable projects.

Our evidence-based, community-led approach directly benefits residents, supports the community service sector to better respond to the needs of disadvantaged communities, while ensuring teaching and research at UNSW contributes to community engagement. It effectively links academic resources and government funding with local community needs.

The programs of the CDP are neighborhood specific and we use a range of strategies aimed at addressing both the social and physical-environmental concerns of the community.

These include:

  • Undertaking research to assist in identification of community needs and to evaluate the effectiveness of programs.
  • Supporting physical and social community regeneration. We work with residents to plan and implement activities and long-term projects.
  • Encouraging community enterprises. We assist residents to develop and independently manage and sustain ventures.

Working from the ground up

In 2008, Professor Eileen Baldry (UNSW), Professor Judith Irwin (University of Sydney) and Associate Professor Sue Goodwin successfully secured a prestigious Australia Research Council Linkage Grant in partnership with Housing NSW, SES Health and TAFE to conduct research over five years on community development in public housing areas to research and evaluate models of working with communities that can bring about sustainable changes in social housing estates. Using an action research approach, the research generated new knowledge about and models of community regeneration. It also provided critical insight into the effectiveness and impact of the CDP.

Despite the changing profile of residents in social housing towards people with complex needs, there is limited understanding of the best ways of engaging with these diverse groups. A growing body of research advocates for practice approaches targeting specific demographic groups . 

In developing the next phase of the CDP, informed by the research outcomes of the Working From the Ground Up project, the CDP will focus on targeted initiatives that effectively respond to the needs of three priority groups:

  • Older people ageing in place
  • Aboriginal people and communities
  • People with mental health issues

Outcomes of the CDP

For 20 years, the CDP has been a successful partnership between UNSW, the Department of Family and Community Services South East Sydney and social housing residents. This partnership demonstrates the pivotal role a university and a government agency can play in supporting resident-led community development in social housing neighbourhoods.

Since its inception, some of the outcomes of the CDP have been:

  • Progressive learning and capacity-building engagement with over 750 tenants across five public housing estate communities.
  • Innovation in supporting people with complex needs and improving their opportunities.
  • Challenging discrimination and racism experienced by Aboriginal families and older people from culturally diverse backgrounds, as well as the stigma of mental illness.
  • New health, education and disability resources through the facilitation and engagement of a further 80 agencies and NGOs in the local neighbourhoods.
  • Community development training for over 200 Housing NSW staff across the Sydney metropolitan area.
  • Innovation-led approaches connecting government and non-government agencies.
  • Real-world work-integrated learning and research opportunities for over 630 social work and built environment undergraduate and postgraduate students.
  • Community-grounded research addressing community- identified issues.

Our history

Establishing the project

The CDP was originally known as the Waterloo/Redfern Community Development Project (WRCDP).

Research conducted by Professor Tony Vinson, Professor of Social Work at UNSW at the time, identified high levels of disadvantage and low social cohesion in the Waterloo social housing neighbourhood.

Following consultations with the local community, Professor Vinson began negotiations with Department of Housing (now known as Department of Family and Communities Housing NSW) to establish a unit to make the educational resources of the University available to the Waterloo community. The aim was to assist in the process of community renewal and to provide social work students with professional community work practice experience.

In 1995 the project was established with the assistance of Jennifer Westacott, from the Department of Housing (DOH), the Inner Sydney Council for Social Development and the tenants at Waterloo Housing Estate. Extensive social surveys were conducted in order to clarify the issues affecting the community. Within the first five years, neglected spaces within the estates were developed into community gardens, play areas and parkland, as a result of this research and the endeavours of the partners in the WRCDP.

Success leads to extension

The initial success of the CDP led to its extension into other estates. The CDP became involved in the social and physical planning of the nearby Redfern estate in 1999, South Coogee in 2002 and Namatjira Place, Chifley in 2004. A short-term project within Menai was also undertaken in 2003/4.

The staff and students have provided community development opportunities, environmental design services and training for tenants over the five public housing estates. Between 1995 and 2008, the CDP also provided community development training for the DOH staff across the metropolitan area.

The partnership is a long-term commitment to public and other social housing communities through a combination of community development, training and research.

Community projects

Community projects we have facilitated and supported have included the development and ongoing administration and management of five community gardens – Cook, Solander, Marton, Poet’s Corner and Namatjira Gardens. The gardens have proven to have many health and social benefits for the residents.

Other projects have included:

  • employment programs
  • educational programs
  • food security
  • culturally and linguistically diverse background (CALD) outreach projects
  • children and youth programs
  • cooking classes
  • volunteer and leadership training

Student placements

Each year the CDP team supervise social work students on their degree placements. These students work with residents across four estates to assist them to build sustainable projects. Built Environment staff and students have also provided DOH with workable design solutions to estate problems. Many of these solutions have been implemented over the years, such as the park and community garden designs.