Since opening in late 2012, The Salvation Army’s The Waterhole community centre in Alice Springs has been working hard to ensure the centre lives up to its name: that it is a place of tranquillity, a place of meeting and a place of possibility.
The Waterhole is The Salvation Army’s open door to the community. Ninety per cent of members are Aboriginal – for most of whom the broader community is a hostile place where they are often perceived as ‘problems’. There are now 120 members – the youngest is 18 and the oldest is 71. Members come from all the main language groups of Central Australia. On any one day between 50 and 80 people come into the centre to use the facilities, to get out of the heat (in summer) or the cold (in winter), to have a shower or wash their clothes, to meet family members and friends, to have a cup of tea and something to eat, to paint, relax, watch a movie, play the guitar or catch up on sleep on the couch.
The Waterhole has enabled The Salvation Army to reach out to the vulnerable in society. Some of the members sleep rough, some have a drinking problem, none are employed. They are marginalised in the wider society but at The Waterhole they are valued and contributing members.
The Waterhole receives no government funding. Rather, money from the Red Shield Appeal and a local benefactor has allowed the space to be transformed and fund staff and activities. Three regular volunteers and three part-time employees keep The Waterhole running.
The Salvation Army is slowly creating a welcoming community. One member says, “It’s better than walking around the streets in the heat – we want to look after this community we started.” Another member said, “I like to come here, have a shower, have a feed and relax watching movies.” The Salvation Army is working to build relationships of trust and want members to feel they belong and believe the change they want is possible to achieve.
Community development facilitator for The Waterhole, Susan Dow, believes that The Waterhole community can have a transformative effect on the lives of its members, reach out to challenge and change the broader community and reac hinward to enrich the faith community of The Salvation Army in Alice Springs.