What is a "Neighbourhood Centre"?

Neighbourhood Centres (also known as Neighbourhood Houses) have a long history in many European countries throughout the world.  Originally called "Settlement Houses", the first was established in 1884 by Canon Samuel Barnett and his wife Dame Henrietta Barnett in London's poor East End.  The house was established to work with the local 'settlement' (neighbourhood).  Throughout the 1880's, the movement spread to the United States where poor immigrants were supported in local neighbourhoods.   

Settlement houses were run in part by communities themselves. They emphasised social reform rather than relief or assistance. (Residence, research, and reform were the three Rs of the movement). Early sources of funding were wealthy individuals or clubs. Settlement house workers were educated poor persons, both children and adults, who often engaged in social action on behalf of the community. Because of their understanding of social and political forces, they battled in legislative halls as well as in urban slums, and they became successful initiators and organisers of reform.


Settlement workers tried to improve housing conditions, organised protests, offered job-training, employment searches and fought for worker's rights. They provided classes in art and music and offered lectures on topics of interest. They established playgrounds, day care, kindergartens and classes in English literacy. Settlement workers were also heavily involved in research to identify the factors causing need and in activities intended to eliminate the factors that caused the need.

Today, Settlement and Neighbourhood Houses operate in Ireland, England, United States, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, South Africa, Russia, Australia and many more countries around the world.  The International Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers (IFS) is a global movement of more than 11000 member associations that include multi-purpose, community-based organisations across the world.

Toynbee Hall Settlement House, founded 1884, pictured here in 1902

Bohemian immigrant youth at the Lessie Bates Davis Neighbourhood House in 1918 in East St. Louis, Illinois

The Pine Rivers Neighbourhood Association was formed in 1987.

Neighbourhood Houses In Australia

Neighbourhood Houses emerged in Australia in the late 1960's in the context the Women's and Civil Rights movements. Like settlement houses in other parts of the world, Australian Neighbourhood Houses responded to local community needs using participatory democracy methods and social action.  They operated with strong Community Development frameworks, working with local communities to drive social change and offering education, activities, playgroups, community meetings, relief and support to local people.  The movement grew strongly in Queensland throughout the 1970's and 1980's, becoming known locally as "Neighbourhood Centres". There are now approximately 150 Neighbourhood Centres in Queensland and over 1000 nationwide.      

Neighbourhood Centres Today

Neighbourhood Centres have evolved over time yet their roots in local community focused activities is still a main feature of their work.  Some Neighbourhood Centres have formed larger corporate structures and amalgamated to pool together resources while others have remained as local community governed associations conducting grass roots work. A small number of larger NGO's and local councils now operate local place based Neighbourhood Centres.  Some centres are operating social enterprises to offer local employment opportunities and increase funding while others operate without any Government funding to retain full community ownership.  Many are responding to natural disasters in their neighbourhoods and most respond to people experiencing personal and family crisis.  Due to their history, Neighbourhood Centres have a unique identity in today's human services sector.

The key features of Neighbourhood Centres are:

  • They are located in geographical areas to impact certain places.

  • They conduct local place-based community development.

  • They run activities which build social capital and community connection.

  • The services and support they offer are community orientated.

  • They work in partnership with local business, clubs, government, NGO's, health services, faith based organisations and other stakeholders to address local social concerns.

Neighbourhood Centres have become the heart of local communities.  They facilitate citizen-led community change and support people experiencing hardship.  For over 135 years, they have continued to assist with housing, employment, advocacy and poverty while offering play groups, activities, workshops, English literacy and migrant support. They offer flexible solutions to local problems, each offering responses relevant to their own unique locality.  


The Neighbourhood Hub, based in Mackay was previously known as "George Street Neighbourhood Centre".

Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Centre operates a social enterprise called "The Wandering Teapot" in partnership with the local Stocklands Shopping Centre

©2019 Queensland Families and Community Association