Recapping CIRCLE webinar - Good ideas. Good people. Now what?

FRRR’s experience confirms time and again that the communities that are strongest and more resilient are those with strong local leadership and with programs that actively and consistently engage all sectors of the community.

The community around Mudgegonga, in north east Victoria, is no exception.

Loretta Carroll

On 28 October, 2014 during the first CIRCLE webinar, Loretta Carroll, Chair of the Into Our Hands Community Foundation shared the story of how the 2009 bushfires were a catalyst for the Foundation’s formation.

The Creating Inspiring Rural Community Leadership and Engagement (CIRCLE) program aims to create capacity and enhance community leadership, tapping into local resources to increase confidence and skills of individuals and community organisations to tackle local issues with fit-for-purpose solutions. The Into Our Hands story was a great example.

Loretta told the 65 participants that after the fires, there were a lot of people with great ideas who were keen to help bring the affected communities together to begin the process of recovery.

“It started as a few people helping one another out – manning the fodder depot, or distributing clothing and food at the local hall,” she explained. “We weren’t getting much support from outside, as roads were closed. So we had to rely on ourselves,” she said.

Data was key

They soon realised however that they needed external support so, with a group of friends, Loretta canvassed the neighbourhood collecting data about the impact of the fires – putting a value on stock and pasture losses and documenting the infrastructure lost, like fencing, sheds etc, as well as the support people needed. They prepared a report and presented it to local Council and eventually to the disaster recovery coordinator. That report was a key starting point for getting help, and initiated the process of engaging with local council and other agencies.

Local residents began to put their lives back together, and eventually moved beyond immediate recovery needs. Some external funding became available, and groups such as Landcare began stand-alone projects like managing blackberries and fencing. That took the better part of the next couple of years.

In 2011, Loretta was invited to join a Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund sub-committee, to help determine how some of the funds raised from the very generous donations could be put to use.

She told participants that it quickly became very evident that strong connections within and between communities would be critical, as would connections with decision-makers and influencers.

“I knew this was a great opportunity but I wanted to ensure that my suggestions reflected what the community wanted. So I asked a number of people to join an informal advisory committee. We didn’t really know it at the time, but that group became the driving force in establishing the Foundation,” she said.

Crucial to build strong and wide networks

The group had strong networks across the nine communities that made up the fire-affected area around Mudgegonga. They were able to lead a consultation process that eventually saw five priority projects developed, one of which was the formation of the Foundation.

The advisory group worked with the community to undertake a number of practical projects addressing issues of concern, including creating water depots across the community, using craft to get people talking, building infrastructure and improving the landscape.

It takes time...

During the webinar, Loretta discussed a number of the challenges they faced and how they overcame them and brought the community with them on the journey. A key point made time and again was that when you are trying to get a great idea off the ground, Persistence + Patience + Timing = Success.

She also highlighted the importance of having skilled, confident people to draw on. “We worked with a local facilitator to develop a series of seven training sessions about leadership and governance. In the end, we had about 35 people complete the training, which has given us a broad base of willing and qualified people across the Valleys,” she explained.

Catherine Marriott, CEO of Influential Women, was also on the webinar and reinforced the importance of leadership development and investing in human capital, especially when a community has been decimated by natural disasters.

Loretta explained that the process of harnessing the coalition of the willing to nurture great ideas and build community leadership is inherently fraught with some degree of frustration. Her sound advice and parting tips were to take the time to build relationships, be prepared to ask difficult questions, seek external advice (and in doing so be flexible and open to change), and accept that there will be times of chaos!

You can listen to the recording of the webinar (WMV file) or download the presentation and speaking notes.

FRRR has also released the Good ideas. Good people. Now what? video – the story of the Newstead community. They held a community summit and then formed working groups to deliver on key priorities.

Save the date: WEBINAR 2 – Seeking Funding – 1:30pm, 9th December 2014

In the second webinar in the CIRCLE program series, Patrick Moriarty, Director of Training and Development at Our Community, will share the secrets to obtaining funding. We also hope to have a community member who has raised funds for her community join us on the webinar and share her secrets for success. Register now.

For more information, email info@frrr.org.au

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