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Springvale – study in social cohesion

28 June 20240 comments

A new narrative from the Scanlon Foundation explores the extraordinary levels of social cohesion that have been achieved over time in the South-East Melbourne community of Springvale.

In their narrative, titled ‘Strong communities don’t just happen – Springvale’s story’, authors and researchers Professor Andrew Markus and Trish Prentice provide insight into the strong social foundation built by the Springvale community over years, and how under substantial pandemic pressure, the community was able to pull together in an extraordinary example of the power of a cohesive community.

“Strong communities don’t just happen – Springvale’s story’, shows us that cohesive communities take time to build, but it also teaches us that with the right investment and unwavering commitment, social cohesion is possible for all Australian communities,” the authors say.

But the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic challenged Springvale’s social cohesion.

“The community was arguably prepared for the virus, preparedness for lockdowns was another matter. The stay-at-home orders devastated Springvale, as they halted important facets of its economic and social life – and Victoria was to endure one of the longest periods of lockdowns in the world, with six lockdowns over a total of 262 days between March 2020 and October 2021,” the narrative says.

“In Springvale, perhaps more than in other communities, a cultural preference for face-to-face interaction drives people together on the streets and in public spaces. Family time is valued and is often multigenerational.

“Similarly, business and trade in Springvale are conducted predominantly through relationships and often negotiated in person. The public health orders halted the most fundamental elements of day-to-day life in Springvale, preventing residents from accessing their primary social and economic networks. The ability to meet was taken away, and this became one of the primary challenges of the lockdowns.”

The narrative points out that both Springvale and Victoria are still taking stock of the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Greater Dandenong estimates that over the two years of the pandemic, the response cost the municipality $16.13 million.

“Even so, many of Springvale’s residents and community service providers feel that Springvale came through the years of the pandemic well. A crisis can reveal a society’s fracture points, but a period of considerable stress can also unveil a community’s strength,” the narrative says.

“Under substantial pressure, Springvale did not fracture. Latent tensions did not rise to the surface, groups did not turn on each other. Despite government fears, there was no apparent conflict or racism on the streets.

“In a time of considerable uncertainty, both individual and civil society connections became deeper, relationships stronger. Opportunities to build bridges beyond the usual cultural, language, social and operational spheres were taken.

“Springvale, in all its diversity, remained remarkably cohesive, more so than other parts of the municipality. Springvale teaches us that homogeneity is not a prerequisite for social cohesion. If that was the case, its social fabric would have disintegrated under one of the world’s most onerous lockdowns.

“Springvale’s cohesiveness came from other factors: the bonds established between local government and the social service sector and the connections with both cultural and faith groups; the connections between cultural and faith groups and their communities built around trusted relationships; and perhaps a sense of belonging to Springvale itself, which led to individuals and organisations collectively using their resources, no matter how limited, towards the greater good.

“At a time of considerable fragmentation, polarisation and conflict around the world, Springvale suggests that the building blocks for social cohesion are not far out of reach. However, they do take time, targeted investment and commitment to create.

Read the full narrative: Strong communities don’t just happen: Springvale’s story | Scanlon institute