Sandra, Tim and Alita

the journey of downsizing, and bonding with neighbours in the communal spaces
— at
Nightingale Studios
Nightingale ParkLife
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Tell us a little about yourselves.

ALITA: I'm 12 years old and a year seven student. I'm really into literature and art. I'm into books, writing stories, all that kind of stuff - those are my main hobbies. 

SANDRA: I'm a social worker. I specialise in mental health and substance use disorders. I'm currently studying science and nutrition full-time and I'm just about to finish my degree, to complement the work that I'm doing in my private practice: working with the side effects from medications, trying to create a balance so that patients can have some empowerment in the decision-making process around their own health and wellbeing.

My family migrated from Colombia when I was a young person, and I grew up here in Melbourne. I started off in the southern suburbs, and then the first chance I had, I moved out of home and straight to Brunswick. I’ve stayed here ever since. It has changed so much. These were all warehouses, around here. This is where all the rave parties used to happen.

TIM: I grew up in Brisbane. I work with Corrections Victoria, doing therapy with women at the women’s prison. I like bike riding, camping. We’re pretty active, like to get out and about as much as we can.

How did you come to live in ParkLife?

SANDRA: Originally we moved further out to Hadfield because we couldn't afford to buy a house in Brunswick. We had our good friend Vanessa over for dinner - she owns the cleaning company Miss V - and we were talking about the renovation we were about to do, and how we couldn't get the right builder. We were disheartened by the whole thing.

TIM: In the end, it was going to cost a lot of money to build a great house, but in a suburb where we didn’t really know our neighbours. We'd been living there for 10 years and still didn't know anyone really. Alita’s childcare and our family groups and things like that were all based out in this area, around Brunswick. We didn't have that connection with our local area. It started to seem like a crazy idea to build this great house there. 

SANDRA: Vanessa told us about The Village. The ideology was something we related to very strongly. We wanted to be a part of a community. The sustainability model was similar to what we were trying to achieve with our house. So it made sense to us. 

TIM: We only put our name down for one apartment. Then we got the call to say that we were successful in the ballot.

ALITA: It was a Friday, and my sister was here. We were all just chilling, and then this person called us and said we got the apartment.

SANDRA: We all started screaming. There were a lot of tears.

How was the process of downsizing?

TIM: It took much longer than we expected. We had two cars, and we had this massive garage, which we never parked inside. It was always full of stuff. 

SANDRA: We had a gym in there.

TIM: It was full of gardening things…

ALITA: …and unfinished projects…

TIM: Camping stuff, lots of camping stuff.

ALITA: I also had the biggest room in the house, so you can imagine the amount of stuff that was in there. 

SANDRA: I remember there was one particular box, and you said, ‘That one box has all of my most precious possessions.’ 

ALITA: And then I kind of just added more boxes! But we got here in the end.

How have you found the change to car-free living?

SANDRA: We love it. I used to drive so much and was so attached to my car. Now I can't remember the last time I drove. I would be concerned if I was to get behind the wheel. 

We use our bikes. Alita rides her bike to school.

TIM: We need a car maybe four or five times a year. We go camping every Christmas, so we usually take a van from a carshare service. If we visit Sandra’s mum, we take a little hatchback. It’s great not to be locked into using a particular car. 

How do you find the shared laundry facilities?

TIM: We all quickly worked out a system, because obviously the main issue would be the volume of people who want to use the facilities. We bought some laundry baskets, and if the cycle is finished, you just put that person’s washing in the basket, and away you go. It really works well.

Do you use the communal spaces often?

TIM: We got a little committee together for the rooftop gardens. We brought in fresh compost and soil. I think Hilary spends most days tinkering there, and they look amazing. She's often picking from the garden distributing it throughout the building. She doesn't want to see it go to waste. Sometimes people can be a little shy, not wanting to use it, or not knowing how.

SANDRA: She’s teaching us. Before this, I’d never heard of warrigal greens. Now they’re a regular in this house. 

Also I think the landing areas have helped build community. We spend a lot of time out there just sitting, hanging out, having food or wine.

ALITA: I’ll come home from school and on the landing, there’s a picnic going on. The sun is shining and toys are everywhere. It's so cute.

SANDRA: We also had our neighbours' wedding on the rooftop. The whole building was invited. We had special roles. Our job was to greet the guests downstairs. We brought a bottle of champagne and hung out until we were told, all right, stop drinking downstairs, and come on up. It was a beautiful night.

It was quite a funny situation because my sister-in-law was having her birthday party on the rooftop of Leftfield across the road. So my whole family was in the other building. When we were raising our glasses for the couple, our whole family was across the way, cheering.

What are your thoughts on the inclusion of community housing within the project?

SANDRA: You're talking to two social workers. So that was a huge incentive for us. We've worked on the other side of that; I remember going to see clients who were very mentally unwell, in really difficult housing situations, with people taking advantage of them. We've seen firsthand what that does to someone psychologically and physically. We both thought the community housing part was really important, and it’s been really lovely to have those neighbours here.

Find out more about
Nightingale Studios
Nightingale ParkLife
First published in
October 2023