A collective of self-help groups: how it all began and where we are now.
Throughout the years, independent community and advocacy groups have often found it hard to survive and thrive on their own without access to vital resources such as affordable rental space and reliable office equipment.
In 1977 the Victorian Council of Social Services (VCOSS) held a seminar to bring together groups that formed the evolving self-help group movement in Victoria. As a result a Committee of Self Help Groups was formed which went on to become the Collective of Self Help Groups (COSHG).
In July 1980, COSHG held a seminar, “Self Help in the ‘80’s – Grass Roots in the Garden State”, which drew attention to the need for shared physical resources and secure, reasonably priced accommodation for small groups. It was around this time that the R.E. Ross Trust approached the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) with a major donation for a project to assist small Community organisations; the Victorian Community Foundation (VCF) was set up as a vehicle for these funds.
These two ideas were brought together to form the Ross House project; to purchase a building to provide the resources needed by these groups. What followed was a lengthy process to find a suitable building and determine how it would operate. This led to a great deal of consultation, anger, angst and joy for the various parties and individuals involved, and in April 1985, the historic Royston House in Flinders Lane was purchased and renamed Ross House. After extensive renovations (funded by the State Government, grants from philanthropic trusts and corporate donations), the five-storey building was opened in 1987 and immediately began serving the needs of a multitude of community organisations.
Initially Ross House was managed by the ANZ Trustees (who also owned the building through the VCF). But once fully established, the Ross House Association took over this responsibility, first in partnership with the Brotherhood of St Laurence (who was the building’s head tenant), then in its own right. With ownership transferred to the Ross House Association in 2011, the Association achieved full independence and became a community asset in every possible sense.
The Ross House building has housed more than three hundred groups since 1987 and is currently home to over 50 tenant groups and over 20 non-tenant members, ranging from one or two persons, all volunteer operations, to those with numerous paid staff and thousands of members. These include self-help groups, advocacy organisations, environment and conservation groups, cultural associations and many others working for social change.
Ross House provides much more than accommodation. The Association and its members are joined through a shared commitment to social justice and working towards an environmentally sustainable society. The Association exists to support independent organisations by providing a place for diverse groups to connect and grow. Together, the Ross House community strives to build a better future for people and the planet.