A VAN with a vision will be trialled in Bendigo, as the city seeks to help and engage people.
Expect to see the BeConnected van at Hargreaves Mall from 11am until 3pm on Wednesdays.
The Salvation Army, Anglicare Victoria and the City of Greater Bendigo are involved in the trial, which will run until July 2018.
Major Andrew Walker, of the Salvation Army Bendigo Corps, said Bendigo offered its residents many opportunities.
“Sometimes the hard thing is to discover and connect to these opportunities,” he said.
“Through BeConnected, our goal is to help connect people with organisations and opportunities to make a positive impact in their lives and in the community as a whole.”
He expects to learn more about the needs of the people who congregate at the mall during the course of the trial.
“We believe it will take a while to build trust with people so they reveal the true needs they have, so we can then address the issues they're facing,” Major Walker said.
The van is equipped with tea and coffee making facilities and ample space for discussions.
“As we discover what the needs are we might alter what we offer with the van,” Major Walker said.
But he expected it was the relationships Salvos and Anglicare workers would build with people, rather than the van itself, that would drive the change.
“The simple process of connection can lead to transformed lives,” Major Walker said.
The concept for BeConnected was inspired by the Chill Out Space, which offers assistance to those enjoying Bendigo’s nightlife.
Salvation Army volunteers at the Chill Out Space are equipped to provide bottles of water, blankets, first aid, information about alcohol and drugs, and referrals to other support services.
Deakin University evaluated the success of the Chill Out Space in 2016, finding that it was valued and frequently utilised.
“It was a logical move to see how the service model could be adapted to connect with people who are in the CBD in the day time,” Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke said.
Francis Lynch, of Anglicare Victoria, said greater access to information about community services was essential for the community.
The BeConnected van is part of an ongoing initiative to revitalise the Bendigo CBD.
Other recent projects include the installation of a sound system in Hargreaves Mall.
Cr O’Rourke said the enhancements would help to elevate the ambiance of the space.
The council is hopeful a shift of atmosphere will discourage antisocial behaviour and attract people to the area.
“People will make the re-activation occur,” Cr O’Rourke said.
“Over the recent weeks there has been a more positive sense about what’s happening in the CBD.
“There is a different vibe, and retailers are telling me that.”
A number of shops in Mitchell Street were being leased, and Cr O’Rourke said some retailers told her on Friday it was the best July they’d ever had in business.
“But it fluctuates for everyone,” she added.
About 50 people, including landlords, traders and Bendigo councillors, met at the Capital Theatre that day to hear the findings of the retail doctor.
Since that meeting, the community has made a number of suggestions about the fate of areas such as Hargreaves Mall.
“People have all got opinions, and that's the great thing about democracy,” Cr O’Rourke said.
“There are people that say it would be great to have a one-way road back through here. There are others that say no, we don't think that would be helpful to our business.
“So it's really trying to understand what's the balance for everyone, and it is around trying to create a hub where people can come in and have a safe environment, whether it's to shop, whether it's to dine... so we're trying to look at that whole balance”.