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Ununiformed approach helps youth

Ununiformed approach helps youth

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Dandenong Plaza had two options to address the surge in anti-social behaviour that had resulted in a number of assaults in the south-east Melbourne shopping centre.

Hire more security staff. Or seek to address the source of the problem which was often a result of young males in the local community having little to do.

The GPT-owned centre chose the latter. The first step the centre took was when one of the longest-serving members of its security team, Mohammad Mustafa, swapped his uniform for a more casual looking cap, pair of jeans and jacket.

Dandenong Plaza’s management team recognised Mohammad had an ability to connect with young people from different groups from across the local community, many of whom are unemployed and many who were in conflict with each other.

Transformed into a youth ambassador, Mohammad got to know the young people who frequented Dandenong Plaza. Rather than react to incidents in the centre, Mohammad acted as someone young people could discuss their problems with and seek advice.

Mohammad’s transformation immediately yielded positive results, with the local teenagers reacting well to his role change and the number of assaults plummeting in the centre.

“Shopping centres are designed so that people can easily enter via multiple convenient entrances,’’ says the centre manager of Dandenong Plaza Mark Tannahill.

“It’s hard keeping undesirable people out consistently, so it makes sense to identify those undesirable people, find out why they are the way they are and see what we can do to help them feel better about themselves and or their situation.”

Mark says trouble can often be avoided by simply listening to people who are angry, frustrated, unemployed, homeless, under the influence of drugs or alcohol or bored. “By listening to their issues, we open ourselves to assist where we can and in many cases we can leverage our resources to assist,’’ he says.

Buoyed by the positive reception to Mohammad’s role change, Dandenong Plaza took things one step further in July when it formed an association with the charity Musicians Making A Difference (MMAD).

Dandenong Plaza provided some funding and discounted space in the centre for MMAD, which seeks to support disadvantaged young people find some direction in their life through music.

Some of GPT’s senior management team, including its Head of Asset Management Matt Faddy and Head of Retail Vanessa Orth, recently visited the MMAD shop where they heard from Lara*, a young woman who always wanted to be an MC but lacked the confidence to talk to people.

Despite admitting she was nervous, Lara* did a great job explaining how she was motivated to quit drugs, finding a job and one day becoming a MMAD leader. MMAD announced last week that it would fly Lara* to attend its hip-hop camp on the Gold Coast as reward for her dedication to its program at Dandenong Plaza.

Another young man Godfrey, who has worked with MMAD and Mohammad, is now studying film making at Monash University.

The MMAD shop in the centre last week hosted a program where its team connected with 30 young people, who were experiencing problems ranging from homelessness, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, mental illness and suicidal ideation.

The initiatives taken by Dandenong Plaza to engage with young people has seen the number of code black assaults in the centre drop from 26 a month to three. It has also helped address some of the social issues affecting the local community and moreover helping young people find much needed support to get their lives on track.

The MMAD partnership and Mohammad’s role change is another illustration of the Shared Value Approach being pursued by GPT, which acknowledges that the long-term economic success of a company depends on the health and prosperity of the communities it operates in.

“The partnership with MMAD is new but is helping us deal with a long standing problem within our community. While this partnership may not change the world, it’s changing individuals lives who one day might help change the world for us,’’ says Dandenong Plaza’s Mark Tannahill.

Meanwhile, Mohammad’s success was recently recognised by the Australian Security Medals Foundation which provided him with a $1000 grant.

*Real name withheld

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