Monday 17 March 2014

RCs can help link up residents: PM Lee Hsien Loong at National Residents’ Committee Convention, 15 Mar 2014

They are changing their ways to stay relevant, mindful of their important roles
By Maryam Mokhtar, The Sunday Times, 16 Mar 2014

Residents' committees (RCs), the grassroots bodies present in Housing Board estates islandwide, are changing the way they do things to stay relevant.

Close to 40 years after they were first set up to help rebuild the kampung spirit after thousands of Singaporeans were resettled in high-rise flats, these committees are doing a lot more tailoring of programmes to meet local needs, and using technology to reach out to residents.

Speaking yesterday to about 1,000 volunteers at the first People's Association (PA) National Residents' Committee Convention, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said RCs are well placed to help residents understand and benefit from government policies and be the first providers of community support.

RC volunteers can help older Singaporeans understand the details of the Pioneer Generation Package announced in this year's Budget, and how they can benefit from it, Mr Lee said.

The Government, added Mr Lee, "cannot know everything", so members of the community must support each other, and RC members can help connect residents to one another.

The convention, held at ITE College Central and organised by the RC Council, was held to take stock of RCs' progress since their introduction in 1977.

Singapore society, said PM Lee, has "completely transformed" since then, with fewer extended families, more elderly couples or singles living on their own and Singaporeans leading busier and more private lives.

"In this changing environment, the RC continues to play very important roles. You have to try and bring back the kampung spirit despite the very different physical and social conditions," he said.

To adjust to this environment, the 574 RCs must be not only relevant but also interesting and engaging to residents, said Mr Lee.

He cited examples of how RCs are adapting - by organising more wellness activities as Singapore's society ages, IT courses to help residents keep up with advances in technology and even virtual committees on Facebook for residents of housing blocks yet to be completed.

As part of this transformation, grassroots volunteers are also relooking the scale of their activities based on the interests of residents in different areas. Following themes such as sports, youth, arts and culture or family, RCs will anchor their activities based on these specific interests.

And where block parties were once the norm to gather residents from groups of HDB flats, some RCs have recently started "floor parties" - for families on the same level within a single block - to engage residents in a more targeted manner.

"Different precincts have different profiles and what works in one RC might not work in another... What we're doing is giving these areas (activities) that they want," said RC Council chairman Bob Lau, 31.

Volunteers in mature estate Ayer Rajah, for example, mooted the idea of a Senior Friendship Circle programme last year to engage residents aged 60 and above.

These seniors gather over breakfast to chit-chat, with RC volunteers using the opportunity to help them gain an understanding of policies and platforms for assistance.

A new training programme will also be launched by PA to teach leadership and communication skills to RC chairpersons and managers and help guide them in their outreach efforts.

Said Ayer Rajah Zone 1 RC chairman Michael Chong, 65, who has done grassroots work for more than two decades: "You need to change to keep up with the demands of residents. The environment we had 25 years ago is very different... but our job is the same - to engage residents."

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