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Care, connection and companionship - Welcome to Eltham supporting seniors

Welcome to Eltham supports newly arrived refugees and people seeking asylum to settle into the local area and access practical support, events and programs.


The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the way we live, connect, socialise and support one another. For senior Victorians living alone, or feeling far from home and their community, the pandemic has been especially challenging. Organisations supported by the Coronavirus Support for Multicultural Seniors (CSMS) program in 2020-21 helped their communities to stay connected, access essential supplies and information, and to forge new friendships.

Welcome to Eltham

Welcome to Eltham supports newly arrived refugees and people seeking asylum to settle into the local area and access practical support, events and programs. With the support of volunteers and the community, Welcome to Eltham assists refugees predominantly from Syrian and Iraqi backgrounds to access a range of initiatives, from subsidised driving lessons to conversation and social groups, walking clubs and material aid.

Welcome to Eltham walking club participants standing in bushland surrounds

Images: Welcome to Eltham program participants at a Christmas picnic and walking club

One of Welcome to Eltham’s most successful programs is a home English tutoring and social connection program. Volunteer tutors often become good friends with participants and provide essential community connection and companionship for newly arrived senior refugees.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges for volunteers and participants alike. Social distancing restrictions meant face-to-face support was not possible, and low digital literacy and access to technology hindered the delivery of the program online. Volunteers tried to run the program over the phone, but communication became less effective as English skills declined without regular practice. Social isolation and language barriers impacted many newly arrived seniors participating in the program, who found it difficult to access information and advice about COVID-19 and to maintain social connections.

With the support of a grant from the Coronavirus Support for Multicultural Seniors (CSMS) program in 2020-21, Welcome to Eltham delivered in-language literacy training to build the skills and confidence of Syrian and Iraqi seniors to participate and engage online.

Welcome to Eltham hosted workshops to teach participants how to use computers and online media and platforms, especially Zoom and WhatsApp, and engaged an Arabic speaking trainer to translate information during the workshops. The grant also enabled Welcome to Eltham to purchase a laptop for the group to assist with workshop delivery and similar events in the future.

“Participants have become more confident using online platforms (e.g. WhatsApp). Due to greater online literacy, volunteers can communicate with greater ease with participants to include them in social connection activities, including the group’s walking club.” Alexander Collum, President of Welcome to Eltham said.

Welcome to Eltham have been able to resume their English tutoring program and conversation groups online, as well as new online games events. They are also better placed to share COVID-19 information, answer questions and support people to understand the latest advice and restrictions. Equipped with greater technology skills and confidence, participants have been able to reconnect with their friends and their wider community, which has reduced isolation, increased their independence and restored a sense of normalcy and belonging for participants and volunteers alike.

Welcome to Eltham hopes to bring everyone back together face-to-face soon and has plans for bus excursions outside of Eltham to introduce refugees other local areas and support them to feel more comfortable in their new home.

Learn more about organisations that support the diverse needs of multicultural older Australians.

To access COVID-19 resources translated into a range of languages, visit the Victorian Government Coronavirus websiteExternal Link . Phone support is available by calling the COVID-19 hotline on 1800 675 398. If you need an interpreter, call the COVID-19 hotline 1800 675 398 and press 0.

Reviewed 21 December 2022