CAFÉ Health (Community and Friendly Engagement for Health) is creating community spaces for conversations about the health and wellbeing issues that affect rural citizens and communities.
CAFÉ Health gives people in the Wimmera region, particularly newcomers and socially isolated people, the opportunity to integrate and be part of the community. It is all about connection with and among local citizens to build relationships and networks, with the aim of addressing isolation and exclusion.
Listening, facilitating, supporting and educating are a two-way street. CAFÉ Health meetings are facilitated by health promotion officers and provide easy access to health education in a comfortable community setting while also allowing the West Wimmera Health Service (WWHS) - Health Promotion team to build networks on the ground and better understand community needs and priorities.
The program engages people to identify opportunities for increased health and wellbeing in local towns. Community members typically identify a project or activities that they would like to pursue and WWHS Health Promotion staff support them to bring these to fruition. The underlying principle to the meetings is that expansion of health literacy is supported and regional priority areas of social connection, healthy eating and active living are implemented in an understated and localised way.
The first CAFÉ Health sessions were piloted in Kaniva, Minyp and Jeparit in late 2019 and have been interrupted due to COVID-19. Monthly CAFÉ Health meetings are planned from February 2022 to cover the rest of the West Wimmera Health Service catchment including the townships of Natimuk, Goroke, Nhill, Rainbow, Rupanyup and Murtoa. WWHS has a slightly different physical presence in each of these communities, ranging from aged care facilities with or without associated urgent care or acute beds to community health centres to a significant acute hospital in Nhill with an active theatre and many visiting specialists.
Sessions are held in local cafes if possible, to support local businesses, but may also be held in other suitable community spaces if need be. For example, in Jeparit, the group meets at the local Pioneer Museum. It has been a conscious choice to meet away from WWHS infrastructure.
CAFÉ Health meetings are held monthly in each town, at times and places chosen by community members. Initial meetings in new towns are announced by flyers, Facebook posts, engagement with local stakeholders and often with a letter box drop of invitations. Participants are encouraged to `bring a friend’. Numbers have grown consistently and, though there is no pressure to attend every meeting, most people do.
The town of Jeparit (347 residents in 2016 according to ABS) has embraced the CAFÉ Health model and chose a community pool party as an initial activity. Over 50 people attended and newcomers mixed with long term residents across all the generations. WWHS used this opportunity to survey community members and build a better understanding of the community and its drivers, while also distributing health information, all in a party atmosphere. After a year of activity with CAFÉ Health, and despite COVID interruptions, the WWHS Community Health and Wellbeing grants received four applications from Jeparit and surrounds in 2020 – a testament to the embracing of self-determination for health in one of our smallest and most disadvantaged communities.
Adaptability is a great strength of the CAFÉ Health model. What is clear already is that community members value the opportunity to discuss their health issues outside formal health settings and are applying what they have learnt.
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