Servants Christmas Concert 2023

This November, we launched Servants’ first ever Christmas Concert. Weaving resident stories alongside stunning performances from local ensembles, it was the perfect way to kick off the holiday season.

Thanks to Rotary and City of Boroondara, we celebrated Christmas in community.

For so many reasons, Christmas can be hard.

Surrounded by lights, presents, and an endless stream of up-beat carols, you either get caught up in the joy – or feel more alone than ever.

For vulnerable members of our community, the approach to December 25 can be a sharp reminder of the family they no longer see, the friends they don’t have, or of relationships lost.

In response, we draw close.

The pain of loss and separation reminds us that when times are tough, we dive in deeper. We grieve, celebrate, and do all the things that good community does together.

But it’s not just our residents. More people in our wider community are feeling lonelier than ever. And as experts in overcoming loneliness and forging community, our residents have something to teach about what it means to find belonging and create community when life doesn’t feel that great.

So this year, we celebrated different.

With thanks to our generous partners, City of Boroondara and Rotary, Servants celebrated our first ever Christmas Concert. With over 200 people packed into Hawthorn Arts Centre, we gathered to hear stories of hope, home and belonging. Woven together with stunning performances from local schools and community groups, it was a beautiful way to ease into the holiday period.

And with social housing residents mixing with school students, politicians, and wider members of the community, it was a great way to live out the values of inclusivity, respect and relationship that we hold so dear.

We extend our particular thanks to the following people and groups for making the event possible:
• City of Boroondara and Rotary, who supported the event with a Boroondara Community Strengthening Grant
• Boroondara Councilors Wes Gault, Di Gillies, Nick Stavrou, and Susan Biggar
• Mr John Pesutto, Member for Hawthorn
• Volunteers Mikaela Turner, Karina Battey, Belinda Battey, Lukas Battey, Kat Grosser, Hannah Hobbs, and Susan Laird
• Michael and the team at Fine Music Hawthorn
• Surrey Hills and Eltham Orchestras, conducted by Mary Wright
• The Majellan Singers
• Home of Chinese Kew Choir
• Camberwell High School’s Wind Ensemble, led by Kathryn Cooper and David Hirst
• Low Brass Society of Victoria
• Hawthorn Arts Centre and Essential Catering
• Fletchers Real Estate
• Our community engagement officer, Jonas Lim

Staff take home national Brighter Future Awards

The AHI Brighter Future awards have been celebrating the achievements of housing professionals across Australia and New Zealand since 2004. In the 2023 cohort, Servants was featured twice, with one finalist and one national winner!

Servants’ staff were honoured at this month’s national Brighter Future Awards, presented by the Australasian Housing Institute during AHURI’s 2023 National Housing Conference.

The awards, which recognise excellence in social and affordable housing across the country, are presented to employees and residents who embody the ‘brighter future’ of the sector across nine categories.

Servants Community Housing was featured in two of the award categories after Mikyla Battey and Jayden Battey were recognised as the regional winners for Victoria/Tasmania, in the Inspirational Team Member and Future Leader categories respectively.

According to the AHI, the Inspirational Team Member Award acknowledges a person who is passionate about their role and understands how it fits into the strategic outcomes of their organisation, and the values of social housing. They consistently demonstrate enthusiasm to add value to their role and motivate others within their team and/or organisation by the approach they take in their work.

Mikyla was, among other things, nominated for her leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, engaging new businesses to partner with Servants and for her contributions to local government housing strategies across Melbourne’s south-east. Using her experience as a live-in house manager, she has been able to embed personal approaches to tenancy management throughout Servants, leading to residents growing in agency and independence.

The Future Leader award recognises industry professionals who have shown potential to excel as a future leader, with nominees deemed to have a future in General Management or C-suite level positions, and to one day have a significant impact on the sector. Jayden, who received both the regional VIC/TAS and National awards in this category, was selected for his work building long-term relationships with members at all levels of government, strategic leadership within Servants, and for his Masters thesis, which analysed the opportunities and challenges for community sector organisations in working with government to address homelessness in Victoria.

Welcome: Honey bees!

Thanks to Bank of Melbourne, residents at Carrical and Hamer Court now care for over 50,000 bees in their very own bee hives. 

Our residents learning to care for bees at one of our houses. As the hives mature, residents will collect the honey to sell.

Looking after bees has been a dream for Servants staff and residents for years – but now it’s a reality. In fact, over 60,000 honey-making bees currently call a Servants house, ‘home’.

The bees aren’t just for show. In fact, they will be put to good use. The process of caring for bees has proven to be therapeutic for residents, giving a sense of purpose.

Karina Battey, Day Manager at Hamer Court, has been intimately involved with the project. She says, “We started with around 35,000 bees at each of two properties, but the hives are growing steadily and we now have thousands more.”

She also sees the impact they have on residents.

How honey-making friends are helping create safe, sustainable housing for people on low incomes.

As with everything, the bee project (which we’re calling Home Sweet Comb), is part of Servants’ mission to create communities where respect, dignity, hope and opportunity are nurtured. The process of caring for bees is therapeutic, especially for people experiencing acute mental illness. And residents are loving it.

Karina says, “Residents are excited. Involvement with the bees is expanding their interest across the whole house, motivating them to try new things and growing a new sense of pride for their home. Caring for the bees gives residents something to look forward to each day, but also gives them a long-term goal as they get excited to make honey in the future.

“I think of one resident in particular. He spent months looking forward to the bees arriving, and there’s a noticeable change in his happiness since he’s been able to get involved.”

Over time, residents plan to harvest honey, and are also getting creative about other ways to use the wax. Wax candles, among other things, might be on the menu in coming months.

All of this has been possible thanks to a grant from Bank of Melbourne, which has supported the purchasing of materials, training, and ongoing support to ensure the project remains sustainable and scalable.

Our beekeeper preparing the bees with a smoker.
Bees on their arrival day.

‘Every person is going through something’.

CEO Amanda Donohoe and Women’s House Manager Belinda Battey are honoured at Boroondara’s 2022 Australia Day awards.

The following words are republished with permission from a speech by Belinda Battey, who was recently honoured as the 2022 Boroondara Young Citizen of the Year for her tireless volunteering with Servants Community Housing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same ceremony, CEO Amanda Donohoe received a special commendation award for her leadership and dedication.

“For the past 12 months I’ve had the privilege of living as an on-site volunteer house manager with Servants. The house I manage supports a number of women from different backgrounds and with different challenging experiences, including acute mental illness and domestic violence.

By living with people with such different experiences, I have been face to face with the fact that every individual is going through different challenges in life. It goes back to the old saying: don’t judge a book by its cover. Every person has their own experiences, and every person is going through something. Everyone has a story.

Having the opportunity to live and be alongside people while they face significant challenges has been a privilege; to support those people, and be a positive, stable, encouraging presence in their lives. Especially during a time where everyone’s lives are that bit more complicated as we make our way through these COVID times.

As an occupational therapy student who wishes to work amongst people, supporting them in their daily lives, volunteering at Servants has given me prime opportunities for exposure to the world around me, and experience that I could not gain through uni alone.

My encouragement to myself, and to everyone in this room is to strive to continually be the person who doesn’t judge, who stops, listens, and genuinely cares for the people around them.

“One moment that will always stay with me is when a new resident moved in. On the day they moved in they told me that in their previous residence, they would stack furniture against the door at night to make sure no one could get in. But here, she felt safe. She had a lock on her door that she knew she could use, to lock her door overnight while she slept, but she did not feel the need to. Because now she had somewhere safe to live; somewhere that felt like home.

This award shows that the work Servants is doing in our community is valued and important. To me it is not just me standing here, but this recognises the work of all the staff and volunteers at Servants, and it is a privilege to have this recognition.

Thank you.”





Belinda was further featured on the front cover
of the Boroondara Bulletin (March edition),
alongside fellow recipients.