Our city’s surprise community

Having lived in the CBD for more than 10 years, Jenny Eltham can confidently say that it is one of Melbourne’s best kept secrets. 

As the president of CBD-based resident group East Enders Inc., a social forum for residents living in the eastern quadrant of the Hoddle Grid, Jenny continues to play a valuable role in building our community. 

Since she and husband John moved to their Punch Lane home, Jenny said that they had quickly taken to the lifestyle of living in the CBD, which had a sense of community that often took others by surprise. 

“I think it’s fabulous,” Jenny said. “People who come to stay with us are always quite amazed about how socially connected people are in the city. I don’t think people realise how much of a community there is particularly in this eastern quadrant.” 

“If I’m going out, I need to leave an extra 10 minutes early because there is always someone to talk to. It might be someone from one of the restaurants or someone else walking past that you know because people are out walking and, so you tend to see them. People aren’t getting in their cars and driving.”

Originally from the bayside suburb of Beaumaris, Jenny and John have lived in some fascinating locations around the world over the years, experiencing and engaging with all kinds of different communities. 

Through John’s work in the mining industry as a metallurgist, he and Jenny have lived in the likes of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, as well as remote China. Before moving back to Melbourne, they spent two-and-a-half years living in Salamanca, Spain.

“Because we’ve lived in really remote locations in mining situations there’s never enough people for doing the social community work, so I’ve worked probably quite hard with local communities,” Jenny said. 

It’s that same motivation that has driven Jenny’s desire to help grow the local community here in the CBD. She said that while East Enders Inc. was established when she and John moved to the city 10 years ago, it was largely in abeyance. 

Having originally joined Residents 3000, she said many residents had felt that a less politicised, informal and social initiative was needed to complement the CBD’s main resident forum. 

As part of a revamping of East Enders Inc., Jenny and others established the monthly Coffee Mornings, where residents could socialise, connect and discuss everyday issues in their neighbourhood. 

Its point of difference is that each meeting is attended by a different expert, such as council or police officers. From safety and waste management to street trading and local planning, residents are given the chance to ask questions of decision-makers about local issues in a relaxed setting.  

“We work very closely with Residents 3000, but we tend to do more the grassroots. We talk to the officers on the ground,” Jenny said. 

“It’s really grown, and it means that it gives people who aren’t always confident of getting up at a meeting and asking a question the chance to talk about a local issue that is worrying them.” 

“I think from that point of view it’s been very successful and it’s different to what Residents 3000 does. It is more informal and if there is an issue we do try and find someone who can talk about it.”

“We want to improve this place and make it better for everyone. Not only for residents but also for visitors to the city.” 

According to Jenny, who has been president since 2016, the officers who attend the meetings have also taken very well to the informal nature of the coffee meetings, which she said were a far more personal way for them to connect with locals. 

As well as its amazing parks and gardens, theatres and restaurants, its initiatives like East Enders, as well as Docklands Probus of which she is also a member, that have been central to everything Jenny loves about living in the city. 

“I think it’s the sense of community I enjoy the most,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of friends. and the community has always been good.”

“I think East Enders and Residents 3000 have always been fabulous and a great way of meeting people. I think seeing the development of Melbourne Sunrise Probus has also been incredible. That’s been a great social vehicle.”

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