The Victorian neighbourhood house movement was born in the early 1970s by trail-blazing women who wanted to get away from “the kitchen sink” and create opportunities to make meaningful change in their communities.

It was a Whitlam-era Australia with dramatic social change, which led to health and community services being delivered more as a "social right" of all people rather than as a charitable duty.

The movement grew from the grass roots out of local community need, particularly the isolation of women in the community, with a vision to bring people together and enhance the opportunities of people and communities. Another initial emphasis was to provide an informal, non-threatening and nurturing environment that supported individualised learning.

During the 1970s, the sector developed with the first network of houses (CHAOS) established in 1978. A peak body, the Association of Neighbourhood Learning Centres (later known as the Association of Neighbourhood Houses and Learning Centres, and then in 2015 renamed Neighbourhood Houses Victoria) was formed in 1979. It later become incorporated in 1984. At that time, it had a membership of 110 houses.

Initially most houses and centres were staffed by volunteers with only small amounts of federal, state and local government funding provided. In 1986, the Neighbourhood House Scheme, later named the Neighbourhood House Coordination Program (NHCP), was established by the Victorian state government to provide secure, recurrent funding for the coordination of activities in neighbourhood houses. In the early 1990s many houses also became eligible for Adult Community and Further Education (ACFE) funding. 

In August 1991, the very first Neighbourhood House Week was held in Victoria to celebration the valuable contributions neighbourhood house make towards healthy and thriving local communities. This is now a national celebration held each year.

Significant volunteer involvement in houses and centres as well as community-based management and a focus on community development were initial features and have remained strong themes throughout the growth of the movement and its evolution to an essential community sector.

The sector has withstood the challenges of sustaining local communities in a climate of dramatic change over the past few decades.

In 2019, Neighbourhood Houses Victoria celebrated its 40 year anniversary, now with a membership of close to 400 houses. 

For a detailed list of milestones which occurred during the first three decades up until 2000, download the Historic timeline of the Victorian neighbourhood house sector (pdf, 97KB).

The above photo is credited to the film Jika Jika Community Centre: The Origins.