13 March 2024

Young Illawarra and South Coast change makers called on to help shape region's future

| Dione David
Start the conversation
Port Kembla youth Lily Callaghan selfie

Port Kembla youth Lily Callaghan will be attending the Reimagining the Illawarra and South Coast workshop in the hopes of learning skills that’ll help them in their advocacy work. Photo: Lily Callaghan.

Port Kembla’s Lily Callaghan is in an increasingly rare and privileged position, having secured a 12-month lease on a house in Port Kembla with a spare room.

Even in a tight rental market amid a cost-of-living squeeze, the 21-year-old is particularly cognisant of their fortune, having experienced homelessness as a teenager.

It has resulted in a passion for social issues – the cost-of-living crisis, homelessness and youth advocacy – and a search for a way to amplify their work in that space.

That’s why when young people from across the Illawarra converge in Shellharbour this weekend for a free workshop to explore how they can shape the region’s future, Lily will be there.

“What I’m mostly hoping to get from this event is learning how to start public conversations on these topics; so far I’ve mostly been engaging with the appropriate organisations,” they say.

“I want to branch out, and talk about these issues with community members.”

READ ALSO Gilly’s Kitchen Garden harvests community spirit and sustainability skills with new wellness centre plans

The Reimagining the Illawarra and South Coast workshop is aimed at young people between 16 and 35, who care about their community and want to help make it a better place to live and work.

It is being delivered by community organisation On the Cusp, a not-for-profit and non-partisan community organisation that connects young people and helps them tackle local issues to make Shellharbour a better place to live and work.

Lily, a social and political sciences student, writer and intern at National Indigenous Television, News and Programs (NITV), has been campaigning for a universal basic income (UBI), among other reforms. They hope to pick up skills that will help them in their advocacy and lobbying.

“I know for my friends who are currently homeless, it’s much harder for them to couch surf and survive than it was for me, quite simply because things I was buying for $12 years ago are now costing $25 or even $50,” they say.

“I’m lucky to be in a position to now offer them a room, but it’s heartbreaking to see how hard it is to survive on average wages and to be so helpless against it.

“A UBI might be a couple of decades away, but I think going to this conference will benefit me as I learn to campaign for the introduction of that policy.”

READ ALSO The tiny home boom helping make housing more affordable and boost employment opportunities

On the Cusp founder Emily Jones, who grew up in Shellharbour, says young people crave local leadership opportunities and want a say about the issues affecting them.

“There are so many young people across Illawarra and the South Coast who are keen to get amongst it and shape the future of their communities. And they’ve got plenty of ideas about where to start,” she says.

“The young people I’ve spoken with want to see action on climate change, better public transport options and to deal with the cost-of-living crisis. But these are pretty big issues to tackle on your own.

“This meeting in Shellharbour will help young people work together to start to solve these issues and make their community a more vibrant place to live. I know our communities could benefit so much from more young leadership.”

Lily says it’s a good time for younger generations to start fighting the good fight and take a more active role in shaping the future they want to live in.

“Young people have been given a lot of space to amplify our voices. We have our parents from different backgrounds who’ve fought hard for our futures. We’ve grown up around transition and change, and we’ve leaned into that,” she says.

“We have technology, social media is a huge stage and we have all these opportunities to make change … Now we need local solutions that tackle some of the bigger issues facing our community, like the climate crisis and the cost-of-living crisis. And young people need to have a say about what those solutions look like.”

There are still spaces open to attend the free, two-day Reimagining the Illawarra and South Coast workshop, which takes place on 16 and 17 March at Shell Cove Community Centre – sign up here.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Illawarra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Illawarra stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.