From Heatwaves to Resilience: The Hot Spots Initiative in Melbourne, Australia

By Catherine Brown OAM, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation

Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation is Australia’s largest independent community foundation with an endowment of $250 million and an annual grants program of $12 million. Since its establishment in 1923, it has served the community of Greater Melbourne by responding to the city’s health and social challenges. Today it is focussed on climate change adaptation and mitigation, homelessness, and economic inclusion.

For the past six years, the Foundation has placed a climate lens over all granting and supports projects that respond to the impacts of climate change in the community. To guide this process, the Foundation asks:

  • Is there a way to encourage the reduction in carbon emissions in this project?
  • Are there opportunities to enhance our work to achieve more benefits for disadvantaged groups as we undertake a just transition to a zero carbon world?
  • How will this impact area (for example, affordable housing or health) be affected by climate change?
  • What should we be anticipating and funding now?

In 2016, the Foundation recognised that climate change was increasing the incidence of extreme heat events in Melbourne and disproportionately affecting the health of people who are disadvantaged or socially marginalised.

The two worst heatwaves on record occurred during the Australian Summers of 2009 and 2014 and in January 2019, Australia recorded its hottest-ever month on record. (Victoria, Heatwaves and Climate Change, Environment Victoria,; Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne).

Hot Spots – Getting Started

It became clear to the Foundation through consultation with many local government, health and community service organisations that community-based organisations, who work closely with those people most vulnerable to the impacts of heatwaves, were not specifically resourced to plan for and respond to extreme weather events, particularly heat.

In response, the Foundation launched its Hot Spots Initiative in October 2018, to fund local networks of health and community organisations to proactively support their communities during extreme heat.

Hot Spots is a collaborative model that brings together a wide range of government agencies, health, and community service organisations in local areas to develop heatwave resilience actions that support people most at need in the specific communities. This includes older people, very young children, and people with a range of disabilities, who are also financially disadvantaged.

Using the Monash University Heat Vulnerability Index, the Foundation identified key areas in Melbourne with higher temperatures during heatwaves along with higher levels of socioeconomic disadvantage. Applications for funding were invited from not-for-profit organisations already working in health and community service sectors in these areas.

Hotspots commenced with two pilot projects by community health organisation IPC Health and Enliven Primary Care Partnership. This was followed by a program led by Cohealth in inner Melbourne to focus on high-rise public housing and in Banksia Gardens in the north of Melbourne.

Four Hot Spot Sites

Brimbank Hot Spots Program (west Melbourne)

IPC Health located within Brimbank City Council focused on younger and older residents, especially those residents with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, to increase heat health literacy and prevent the health impacts caused by extreme heat.

IPC Health’s Hot Spots program coincided with two important factors – Brimbank City Council declared a climate emergency and the State Government updated its health priorities to include climate change. IPC researched the level of community awareness about the impacts of heat on health and identified local climate change advocacy groups. It also hosted community workshops to further build their understanding of what residents experienced during summer.

Easy-to-read brochures were published providing information about how to reduce heat in homes and how to monitor personal health during heatwaves. The aim was to empower the community to act in their own homes through simple ways to reduce the impact of heat on their health.

IPC is now working on developing increased access to cooler public places as well as creating peer-to-peer support networks for young people. This includes working with other stakeholder groups such as businesses and religious groups within Brimbank.  It is hoped that shopping centres and places of worship, will adopt a heatwave policy to allow people access to these spaces during summer.

Dandenong Hot Spots Program (outer south east Melbourne)

Enliven’s project is a collaboration between City of Greater Dandenong, Southern Migrant & Refugee Centre, and Bolton Clarke. The health promotion activities focused on community members who are vulnerable on days of extreme heat including newly arrived migrants, older people and parents with babies and young children.

Cohealth Public Housing Hot Spots Program (inner Melbourne)

Cohealth is a not-for-profit community health organisation that improves health and wellbeing for all by reducing health inequity. This Hot Spots program has a very clearly defined geographic area and focuses on public housing estates in inner Melbourne. Cohealth conducted interviews directly with community members and they are now assessing and addressing issues associated with extreme heat events for older tenants. Their aim is to prepare and protect vulnerable older people from the health issues experienced during extreme heat.

Banksia Gardens Hot Spots Program (north Melbourne)

This new program will establish and improve a green corridor between two urban community gardens that will connect Banksia Gardens Community Services and nearby public housing, as a means of engaging these communities in heat health and resilience in general. It will be culturally appropriate and addresses different needs and preferences such as places for children to play, the elders to sit, and where women would feel safe walking.

The greening of the corridor aims to make it cooler for people to walk from the community housing to the community services building, which will be important as older housing becomes unbearable during heatwaves. The community will learn about heat health issues and how to prepare and reduce these impacts.

Evaluating Hot Spots

The Foundation funded Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, to undertake a formal evaluation of the first three Hot Spots programs (Hot Spots Evaluation Report, Climate Change Exchange, RMIT, October 2020).  The evaluation of the Hot Spots program highlighted the close interconnection between weatherproof housing, existing health issues, financial limitations, and the ability of people to respond to climate change impacts, such as heatwaves.  It also recommended building on the Hot Spots place-based, collaborative model to extend beyond heatwave vulnerability to building resilience to climate change more generally.

Overall, the findings suggested that the components of an effective response to reducing heat vulnerability in low income communities using a cross-sector collaborative approach should involve two key items:

  • Maintaining the flexibility in project and activity delivery (and philanthropic funding requirements), enabling projects to provide context, place-specific outreach, including working through and building upon local networks; and
  • Supporting the sharing of experiences and learning among the Hotspots teams and their local level networks.

Having an overarching Hot Spots ‘project’ was significant in that it catalysed and enabled connections and knowledge sharing among the Hot Spots teams and with other service providers. This also enabled teams to take up a range of opportunities to extend the reach of the Hot Spots work. This collaborative and flexible approach to project delivery allowed for more strategic engagement aimed at improving community resilience to heat events.

The Foundation is now also supporting programs that increase energy efficiency and weather protection of low-income housing and requires high energy ratings in capital grants for affordable housing projects.


Anna Keremen, Communications F20 |

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