ONE of the biggest challenges many young people face is their first experience of leaving home and this can be even harder for those who have to relocate far afield to further their education.
Brunswick Uniting Church is doing its bit to support students moving to Melbourne from throughout Australia and overseas through a Student Housing Program (SHP).
Currently 10 young people aged between 18 and 25 share two five-bedroomed apartments in the inner city suburb. The congregation’s student and youth support worker Anika Jensen, who is also a former resident, said students tend to stay until they either completed their undergraduate degree or moved from Melbourne.
In 2009 Brunswick Uniting, formed by a merger of St Andrew’s and Brunswick South-West congregations, bought the five-unit Bucknall Court property which was previously used to house ministry candidates. It was redeveloped into three units, two for students and one that is rented out.
Two decades on, some of the early students are still part of the congregation, an indication that lifelong and sustaining relationships have been forged.
The SHP aims to create a community where students develop skills to support and care for each other. They also engage with the broader church community, which offers care and support to the students.
House members are encouraged to become active in the missional outreach of the church, which includes support for asylum seekers and those living on the edges of society as well as youth activities.
“It is a place with a diverse mix of young people where they can share their different cultural backgrounds and approaches to faith. There is a lot of respect shown by all members and this leads to real community building,” Anika said.
“There is a natural flow of reciprocal relationships between students within the community and beyond to the broader church and these relationships are dynamic and ever growing.”
Anika said for many of the young people it was their first experience in becoming part of a faith community as an independent adult.
SHP committee members and the residents share a meal once a month.
“It is an opportunity to pause and help each other out,” Anika said. “It is very much a community and that is the type of culture we strive to maintain.
“There are people in the church community that the young people get to know and can seek assistance from in terms of practical and emotional support.”
It may be as simple as a resident being invited for a home-cooked meal or, as occurred a few weeks ago, a request from one house for a television being quickly met by a congregation member.
Brunswick Uniting minister Rev Ian Ferguson stressed the invitation to engage with the church is not some form of `payback’ .
“It is primarily an exercise in community building and supporting them in a practical way,” Mr Ferguson said.
“There is a strong sense of engagement between the students and the congregation and it is wonderful to have them here.”
Abi Bannon has maintained a strong connection with Brunswick Uniting after four years living in student housing.
She volunteers at the church’s Olive Way – a drop-in engagement with the local community which operates three days a week and provides lunches and an art workshop – and puts her continuing connection down to the support she received when she first moved from Castlemaine.
“I never really imagined myself moving to the city but I had to. I found the people just so welcoming right from the beginning, just so willing to back me up and support me,” she said.
“It was absolutely vital for me.”
Brianna Bartley has lived in the student housing accommodation for more than three years.
She said finding a safe space had been very important when she moved from Launceston to begin her university studies.
“You are learning how to be independent. Being able to go through that with others helps you to mature,” she said.
Sam Rauert said moving into share house accommodation could be fraught with difficulties so having people of a similar background made settling in easier.
Andrew Crane said he had found the support from congregational members very helpful.
“They help out with little things, like telling you where the shops are. Everyone is very welcoming and you can have a conversation with anyone.’’
At the end of this month a vacancy will exist in the student house community. For more information contact Anika at firstname.lastname@example.org