This year for Neighbourhood Centre Week, Nicolette Ffrost and her team at The Neighbourhood Hub Mackay hosted a Human Library event.  Human Libraries allow readers to borrow a ‘human book’ and listen to their life story. The event is designed to offer a safe space for conversations that challenge stereotypes and prejudices and provide an opportunity for community members to connect, learn and understand.

Nicolette explained her motivation behind wanting to host such a unique event at The Neighbourhood Hub:  

“We are naturally curious as individuals, I think sometimes we have that fear of asking the wrong questions, and we really miss that opportunity to get to know someone really well. Human books are going to be different, there will be different themes. The more we learn about each other the more we un-judge, and we start to unpack.”

Over a few hours, seven ‘human books’ were rotated between small groups of ‘readers’, each gave a short introduction about their own life experiences. The readers then proceeded to ask questions and explore the books further. The ‘books’ were diverse, including a young widow, a female police officer, a foster mother and someone who had experienced migration.  

“There was one gentleman, who talked about his time in the army and his transition into everyday life and a personal crisis he went through in navigating that. We did have to wrap that one up, that conversation could have gone on for the whole two hours, because he was so open.”  

Nicolette and her team made every effort to ensure both the books and their readers were comfortable and felt safe to speak.  

“We had sheets printed out of questions, conversation starters for everyone in the room, where there was a gap, one of us would help facilitate the conversation to keep it flowing. It’s a delicate balance to make sure both the book and reader feel comfortable, telling their stories and asking their questions, the focus is on the quality of the experience.” 

Nicolette’s eyes lit up as she explained how the human library ‘broke the internet’ that night, with many community members curious how they could engage with future events.  

“We would do it again and again and again. We hope to host another event later this year for RU OK Day, with a focus on mental health.”  

The capacity to host events such as this are a unique capability of Neighbourhood Centres who meet the needs of the community in thoughtful and unexpected ways. 

“Overall, it comes back to the community and NCC’s in general we have the ability to adapt, we have the ability to be flexible we have the ability to do all of these weird and wonderful things those other organisations just don’t do.” 

Queensland has over 140 Neighbourhood and Community Centres who are bringing people together on a regular basis, through events such as this. These centres are at the heart of community cohesion and strength.  

“We aren’t just neighbourhood centres, we’re fully functioning businesses that respond to communities in ways that other organisations don’t, and I think that this event just shows another layer of what we do and how wonderful that is.”

Written by: Taylor Bast

Published: 31 May, 2022