OAM for caring community member

Sylvia Ramsden. 203705 Picture: ROMY STEPHENS

When Sylvia Ramsden found out she had received a Medal of the Order of Australia, she couldn’t quite believe what had happened.

“I thought it was spam, a hoax. I said to my husband you won’t believe what somebody has just sent me an email for,” she said.

“It wasn’t anything I’d ever envisaged.”

Ms Ramsden received the prestigious honour on 26 January, for her many years of service to the community of Lilydale.

Over 30 years ago, Ms Ramsden began volunteering at Lilydale Assist – formerly known as Lilydale Citizens Advice Bureau.

She started as an information officer and within a year, was the organisation’s secretary.

In 1994, she became the organisation’s president and remained in that role for over 20 years.

“We started as a place where people could come and find out where they could go to get help on things,” Ms Ramsden said.

“We couldn’t give them the help but we would tell them or put them in the right place.

“We’d sit down to discuss their problems and find exactly what they needed.”

But as technology changed over time, so too did the organisation’s role.

“As the movement developed, the most pressing need for people seemed to be emergency relief, they just didn’t have enough money for things,” she said.

“We added that to our list of services and gradually that has taken precedence over the information.

“Especially now the Internet’s there, you don’t need to keep that because you can look it up.”

Dedicating many years to the emergency relief space has often come with periods of difficulty for Ms Ramsden.

She recalled one story which helped summarise the emotional encounters she frequently experienced.

“I can remember when I hadn’t been in it very long, a mother came in with baby twins and she said I just can’t cope,” she said.

“I was within an inch of saying I’ll take them home.”

But Ms Ramsden said her training constantly reminded her of the need to separate emotion at times.

“When we close the door we have to leave those problems behind, we can’t take them home with us,” she said.

In 2011, Ms Ramsden became the Lilydale Assist Representative and Secretary of the Yarra Ranges Emergency Relief Network – a collection of emergency relief organisations from across the region.

She has also received both a state and federal Certificate of Appreciation for volunteers and was an inductee on the Community Information Services Victoria Honour Roll in 2017.

Ms Ramsden said one of the most pressing social issues small communities face, to this day, is homelessness.

“One of the most heartbreaking things is the number of homeless,” she said.

“There are so many homeless people and we had swags from an organisation to help them as well as the food vouchers we could give them.”

“I cannot see how we’re ever going to get rid of it.

“Governments don’t seem overly interested in providing affordable accommodation for people.”

She added that the combination of homeslessness and drugs has made the issue even more difficult to deal with.

Ms Ramsden recently retired and she said that despite missing her work with Lilydale Assist, she believed it was the right time for her to finish.

“I thought it was time to let younger people in and different minds,” she said.

“When you hold a position like president you can hang around too long and you get used to the way you do things and the way everybody accepts that you will do things.

“I think it’s time for people to step in and bring new ideas.”