Driven by support

By Sean Car,

The Salvation Army is in Major Brendan Nottle’s blood. 

The commanding officer of the Salvos’ Melbourne Project 614 needs little introduction. For 30 years he and wife Sandra have dedicated their lives to supporting our city’s most vulnerable and much of that time has been concentrated in the CBD and its surrounds. 

It’s a humanitarian calling that manifested well before he was born. As he told CBD News, his association with the Salvos extends back to its support of his grandmother in their hometown of Northcote in 1928. 

With three sons and pregnant with Brendan’s mother, the early death of her gambling and alcohol addicted husband left the family without a father and, according to Brendan, with “two shillings in the bank.”

“Her local church minister came around just after the death of her husband and said you’ve fallen behind in your giving … being a good Irish woman she fired up and said, ‘I’ll never be back!’” Brendan said.

“The local Salvos in Northcote found out and came with some groceries and maintained the regular contact. Interestingly there was a woman training to be a Salvation Army officer in Northcote at the time, but they didn’t have anywhere for her to stay for six months.”

“So, the local Salvo guy said to my grandmother ‘we’ll pay you some rent if she can stay with you and she can help you out with the kids’.”

As well as supporting himself and his family through the loss of both his parents at a young age, Brendan said it was the practical, tailored and non-judgemental care that the Salvos were renowned for that continued motivating him to give back. 

Whether it be providing accommodation, protection, healthcare, employment, legal service or emergency relief, the organisation prides itself on offering real solutions to ending homelessness, violence and inequality in our city. 

But it’s the base level support that underpins it all. This experience can be witnessed at the heart of its operations at 69 Bourke St, where it operates the seven-day-a-week Lighthouse Café. 

It’s here that people can come enjoy the basics of a meal, shelter and just good conversation with anyone of the many patrons, staff or volunteers that pass through the café on a daily basis. 

“It’s a really interesting cross-section of people who access the café,” Brendan said. “It’s people that are homeless, who are at risk of becoming homeless or people who have accommodation but may not have access to cooking facilities. It’s also people who are accommodated but are completely isolated, so they come to connect with others.”

“There’ll be people checking in and just having a chat to just normalise the situation. You really see people change … ‘oh you really want to have a conversation with me!’”

“Apart of trying to pick up on that is that we have corporate groups coming through five days a week. They help prepare the food and take orders – we don’t have queues like they do at a soup kitchen. We try to instil that sense of dignity and respect.”

The café is open for breakfast and lunch Monday to Friday and dinner seven days a week, while it runs a night café from 11pm to 7am funded by the City of Melbourne, who, according to Brendan, provide “fantastic support.” 

And from Victoria Police and St Vincent’s Hospital to corporate groups and the likes of Collingwood Football Club and Melbourne Storm, the support for helping the Salvos end homelessness is far-reaching. However, Brendan said they were constantly on the lookout for more dedicated staff and volunteers. 

“Because the work is quite intense you want particular kinds of people,” he said. “You want people who are passionate about seeing significant change happening for people. It’s not just a matter of coming along and opening the doors of the café and making it run. It’s about really working with people and helping them get on their feet.”

As for the year ahead, Brendan told CBD News that expanding its support services for youth through a number of initiatives was high on his agenda, so too was a new program focused on women’s safety in the CBD … watch this space!

To keep up to speed with the Salvos’ efforts and find out how you can help visit salvationarmy.org.au/melbourne614 or keep an eye out for Brendan’s new regular column in future editions of CBD News.

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