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Child’s play
No-one gets through life alone.
No single person or group serves as the be-all and end-all for someone in need.
And there’s no limit to what you can achieve if you work together.
These are life lessons in evidence down at The Salvation Army’s Northside Corps and
Community Centre on Cox Road in Corio (Vic.), where late last year the Salvos joined with
Glastonbury Family Services and the Percy Baxter Charitable Trust in officially opening the
‘Imagination Station’ playground for the 40 children who rock up each week for the two
Glastonbury playgroups hosted on the Army’s premises.
That idea of solidarity is fleshed out with the ‘Northside Team’ photo up on the TV monitors
when you walk in, with Jo, Narelle, Gloria and Leah clowning for the photographer. It’s a
lighthearted, warm welcome that’s matched by the three-dimensional members of the team.
There’s carolling, and squeals of delight from kids determined to enjoy themselves. Laughter
from the Northside regulars going about their business, as well as genuinely happy, and
grateful, parents; people who bring their kids to the playgroups knowing they are in a safe
place. And, thanks to the trust, a place with a shiny new $65,000 playground.
Jodie had been coming along for two terms with her 18-month-old son, who loves to get
outside in the sandpit and water play. ‘This place gives me the confidence to come out with
him,’ Jodie shares.
‘I wouldn’t have come here with him if I wasn’t linked with Glastonbury, and I liked the idea
of the community meal the Salvos put on for us, and being able to sit down and talk with
other mums.’
Nadine agrees. She’s been coming for over a year with Logan (aged four) and Lilly (18
months). ‘Logan has autism, and he has made his first friend in this playgroup – it’s been
good, really, it’s been overwhelming,’ Nadine says.
‘This is a welcoming place,’ she adds. ‘I’ve felt included, which wasn’t the case at other
playgroups, and we love the big, open spaces.’
Jodie, Nadine and their kids are among about 140 people who’ve come to celebrate the
playground’s big launch day. Before the grown-ups take their turns at the podium, there is a
welcome to country by Corrina O’Toole and then the joys of the Deadly Dancers, a mob of
young tearaways aided by a masterful exponent of the didgeridoo, perform creation and
‘show off’ dances for everyone.
It’s great skills and great fun, and it goes down well. So well, in fact, that the boys’ moves
chill people out, and all of us – hangers-on, tired mums, excited kids, dignitaries, helpers and
helped –manage to smile their way through the entirety of the speeches, aided and abetted by
master of ceremonies, Major David Eldridge.
For Austin Paterson, from the Percy Baxter Trust, there is symmetry at play – the trust had
bankrolled the original Salvation Army property on Cox Road decades ago. ‘It’s a privilege
to partner with Glastonbury and The Salvation Army,’ he says, ‘and it would be terrific to see
more of such partnerships – it’s a great example.’
Glastonbury’s John Frame is inclined to agree. ‘This program is aimed to help young Mums,
and the nearest, safest place for children to play outside of this option is three km away.’
In a region and era when private transport is often not an option and public transport is
expensive, Mr Frame says the Salvos provide ‘a safe and welcome place that is inductive to
community engagement, with pram and wheelchair accessibility’. He further recognises that
Northside is a thriving centre for disadvantaged families, with 26,000 people helped annually
by The Salvation Army.
Major Bruce Stevens responds, speaking on behalf of Salvo leadership. ‘Major Gloria
Eldridge and her team are absolutely passionate about the community and the partnerships
that are making a profound difference in the lives of children and people in this community.’
The major celebrates the relationships between The Salvation Army and Glastonbury, ‘and
their values, which speak of caring’. The Salvation Army, he concludes, is about caring for
people, redeeming society, making disciples ‘and transforming lives; seeing the love of God
expressed in practical ways’.
Talking from her heart, the corps officer Major Gloria Eldridge cites an old warrior for social
change and personal renewal, a gent named William Booth: ‘God loves people whose hearts
are bursting with passion for the impossible.’
The major encourages all present to make a difference, to channel passion into making a
difference in the lives of their neighbours. ‘Today has happened,’ she emphasises, ‘because
we are more than partners – we are friends. Friends who love working together, and who love
our work.
‘The Salvation Army offered the building at no cost to Glastonbury, and the playgroups also
participate in our community meals. I want to pay tribute to the passionate, committed
women of Glastonbury; generosity and openness are their hallmarks, and it led to the opening
of the second playgroup.
‘This has been the easiest fundraising proposal I have ever been involved in, and this has
deepened our commitment to Glastonbury and the mothers and children we serve and love.’