Liz Bonner: Cloverdale Community Centre.

“We need to be creative, be like explorers, and adventure through life until our passion or passions are discovered. I get to create a community environment that encourages people to find theirs, what a job!”

Liz Bonner is the Manager of Cloverdale Community Centre in Corio, Geelong. Cloverdale is one of 400 Neighbourhood Houses across Victoria that provide an inclusive space for community to connect, learn and feel supported. It’s a place where locals can contribute to, and participate in, community-led programs and recreational activities, as well as gain new skills.

“Cloverdale Community Centre values life-long learning and the right for all to grow and learn, to feel a part of a connected and thriving community.”

In her role, Liz has the wonderful opportunity to apply her recently acquired knowledge of other similar community-based education programs overseas. With an International Specialised Skills Institute Fellowship, (sponsored by the Victorian Department of Education), Liz and her family traveled to the USA last year. 

“I sought to experience innovative, community led engagement initiatives, looking to Detroit, USA, a motor city with cultural connections to the northern suburbs of Geelong. The aim being to invigorate and motivate learning along with social change.”

There she got to see first-hand how community education programs can result in some very positive outcomes, many using a social enterprise model to assist in keeping the opportunities alive for long-term community gain.

One example was a program that offered young people the opportunity to participate in visual art classes, and then use those skills to provide murals to beautify the local buildings and shop fronts. 

“Southwest Urban Arts Mural Project programs are all about improving the liveability of the community. The result is urban beautification. The murals are a dominant feature of the Southwest area.”

Another was a fully operational bakery that offers work experience opportunities, while helping to fund housing assistance, counselling and self-help programs.

“The combination of education and community enterprise was very common throughout the Detroit community. Limited funding required creative enterprising to sustain the programs long-term. The sale of baked goods supports the program, with the quality of the products produced being of a very high standard.”

Liz hopes to build upon these ideas at Cloverdale, and get the local community involved in their own learning journeys.

“I believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to develop their unique skills and abilities, to learn, and become a life-long learner.  Our current approaches to education limit this opportunity for many, denying them the joy of discovery, trial and error, and finding their true passion in life. They feel like they failed within the system, when in fact they just haven’t found the unique environment that makes them thrive!”

When you consider all the different things Liz has so far learned in her own life, you can see why she is working hard to create a space for everyone to benefit from education. Before Cloverdale, Liz worked as a Dental Nurse, studied Aquatic Science, became a qualified Secondary Teacher, was employed as an Analytical Chemist, studied a Diploma of Music, and then overcame her fear of performing by singing and playing guitar in a Geelong local band, Friday’s Muse.  Amongst this rather extraordinary learning journey there was a pivotal moment that fortunately led her to Cloverdale.

“I taught for a number of years but felt uneasy about how our education system is designed for the average to high achieving learner.  Those with complexity were not always seen for anything other than their weaknesses. I couldn’t do it anymore so went searching for something different.  I drifted in and out of education, not sure if I was cut out for it until I stumbled into working with Cloverdale Community Centre. Matt (my husband) came home from an arts workshop saying they were looking for an Education Coordinator and that I could do the job easily (he has more confidence in me than I had in myself at this time). Ten years later and I am now the Centre Manager. I found my passion place!”

Travelling as part of her fellowship provided Liz with many inspirational moments affirming her vision for community education.

“On a train to the Canadian border city of Windsor I met Mayor Don Mackay. Coincidently he too was looking at ways to improve community connectedness and life-long learning culture in his small rural town.  He said, “Liz do you know what the opposite of poverty is? It’s community!”

This statement hit hard.  It’s about having resources beyond just financial. It’s about having a true and deep connection as a community. It’s about sharing, inspiring and building up our collective capacity. A will to want everyone to thrive.”

With this in mind, Liz hopes that those of you out there in our Geelong community feel inspired.

“Seek a place of belonging, question deeply and actively pursue the things that ignite your

imagination! We all need others, community. Visit your local Neighbourhood House, join a club, learn something new, it’s your right to be a life-long learner, to explore life and all it has to offer you.”

“We would love to hear ideas from the Geelong community for programs that inspire curiosity and spark passion. We work for you, we are led by you, you are our inspiration and together we can make significant change to the fabric of the society we live in.”

Cloverdale Community Centre Inc.

p:  03 52754415

a:  167-169 Purnell Rd CORIO 3214

Liz and husband Matt (projection artist) feature in the Humans in Geelong Online Expo 2020, this Sunday Oct 11, and ongoing, on our YouTube Channel.

Story: Sarah Treacy. Photo: supplied