Hastings Neighbourhood Service coordinator Julie Trowbridge recognised that many people in her local communities needed assistance filling in everyday forms which are unfortunately complex. In response, she worked with her team and volunteers to set up the LEAF Service: Literacy, Editing and Forms. They offer volunteer assistance to sort, read, understand and write documents at three neighbourhood centres. The service is a fabulous example of meeting the needs of people who require immediate assistance with a literacy task that is presenting a barrier to accessing essential services. Currently it operates at Port Macquarie, Wauchope and Lake Cathie.

The team have noticed that many users need the service because they lack the digital skills to complete the myriad of online forms required for basic health and financial needs. Julie commented that even when people have good reading skills, they often fill in the personal details required but then baulk at the size of forms, the text complexity, and the text density. Until services redesign their forms to be readable and accessible, programs like this will continue to be needed so it would be great to see similar initiatives being offered across the country.

The service could easily be replicated. It requires:

  • A coordinating body to host the service (such as the neighbourhood house)
  • Volunteers to provide the service
  • Advertising (increasingly difficult with the absence of the local paper and no dedicated funding)
  • Training of volunteers

Julie and the team have set up the service without special funding but suggest some support would be useful to spread the word and alert more locals to its existence. There is also room for some funding for volunteer training in WHS, the scope of the program and in how to set up participant expectations (basic training in confidentiality and what can’t be covered by the volunteers, such as legal advice).