Community saves itself from ruin with ‘give it a go’ attitude

Whilst the closure of a major employer in a small town can often be devastating for the community, a small town in northern Victoria has shown that it doesn’t have to be so. A recent ABC News article highlights the ‘can do’ attitude with which residents overcame the shock of 146 job losses and created the thriving farmer’s market and music scene which now define the town.

When the Heinz sauce factory in Girgarre closed down in 2012, residents were afraid it would mean the end of their small town. But instead of giving up, they knuckled down to come up with ways to generate funds for community projects themselves. Although many were dubious when Doug Gray, a member of the Girgarre Development Group (GDG), suggested the town should start its own farmers market, they decided to give it a go.

 

Starting with six stalls, the farmer’s market in Girgarre has gone from strength to strength and now has 150 stalls.

 

This has resulted in huge success for the community allowing them to self-fund maintenance for sport facilities, the local Country Fire Authority, the RSL and a community car for medical appointments.

Another heartening measure of their success is the fact that the local kindergarten, also saved by funds from the farmer’s market, will have a record intake this year.

Added to this, the town now has a thriving music scene thanks to the Girgarre Moosic Muster festival, which initially focused on people who had no musical experience but were keen to learn an instrument. Around 900 people have now gone through the workshop program and their monthly jam sessions attract musicians from all over northern Victoria. This has created a much wider community for the 190 people who actually live in the town.

Jan Winter, chair of the GDG, believes that this kind of solution is applicable to any small town.

 

“What they’ve got to do is search for the ideas that can help empower their own communities because nothing’s impossible, we’ve found that one out.”

 

Re-post ~ Tiny town of Girgarre in Victoria’s north shows ingenuity in the face of job losses by Peter Lusted for ABC News

Aussie solar company (em)powers rural farmers

An Aussie startup company, Village Infrastructure Angels (VIA), has launched a social enterprise project which leases solar set-ups to villagers in developing countries.

By providing rural communities with access to solar-powered lighting and phone charging capabilities, as well as shared agro-processing facilities, company founder and solar entrepreneur Stewart Craine hopes to cut dependence on fossil fuels, improve agricultural productivity and empower communities.

 

 

So far the project has proven to alleviate the time burden involved with food production, particularly for women, and open up possibilities for other paid employment. This has been achieved by leasing solar powered mills to communities to help them grind and de-hull grains. A mill shared between a group of families can turn what used to be a highly labour-intensive task into a five-minute doddle, improving agricultural productivity and freeing up time for other activities.

Introducing solar technology in these rural communities also decreases their reliance on fossil fuels as it provides an alternative to kerosene lamps and diesel-powered generators.

 

 

Craine, who also helped found the solar lighting group Barefoot Power,  has already attracted interest from investors for this new project.

 

“…pilot projects have so far proved that local teams could quickly generate sufficient revenue from a modest number of solar power projects in rural villages to cover their daily operating costs, and additional revenue which accumulates in the bank to repay investors.”

 

The company has achieved its pilot goal of reaching 1000 households and plans to reach 10,000 households by 2018 and a whopping 200,000 by 2020. This is in an effort to help more of the 1 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity.

Re-post ~ New Aussie solar start-up empowering rural farming villages by Sophie Vorrath in One Step Off the Grid

Investors snapping up community energy projects… which are selling out in hours!

solar panels bakers maison

Within six hours of it opening, investors had pitched in to invest in one of the newest community funded renewable energy  projects,  a huge 230 kilowatt solar system on the roof of Bakers Maison in western Sydney.

The public appetite for community-funded renewable energy appears to be limitless, with projects proving so popular they are selling out within minutes of being offered to investors.

This latest initiative, saw 20 investors pitch in almost $400,000 in total in just six hours.

The project has been set up by volunteer-run ClearSky Solar Investments. The company will pay investors for the solar energy it uses over a period of between seven to 10 years. The investors get a 7% return on the money they put in. After that time, the business owns the panels and will use its energy for free.

“There’s a huge appetite out there for people to invest in renewable energy, we just need more projects,” ClearSky Director Warren Yates said.

Bakers Maison employs 120 people and runs every day of the year, baking and freezing French-inspired products that are sold to all corners of Australia. “We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility bills,” General Manager Pascal Chaneliere said.

The bakery already had a 100 kilowatt solar power system, which will now be bolstered by this new, much larger community project. Mr Chaneliere said getting investors involved to help out with the costs of the new solar panels would help further reduce their bills.

“We signed a contract for the cost of electricity for the next coming years, so it makes a lot of sense. We know exactly what will be the expenditure for the next five years.”

David Blowers from the Grattan Institute said community projects had potential to save the electricity grid from expensive upgrades that are passed on as costs to consumers. He said network businesses should look to get involved in some community projects.

“You want to see a framework which encourages the right sort of solution for the right sort of problem,” Mr Blowers said. “At the moment it’s a one solution fits all, which is you build more poles and wires.” He added his view that Government needed to look at the way the grid costs were regulated to make sure costs were spread fairly.

More than 50 community solar projects are up and running across the nation, with individuals investing almost $24 million in total.

But Australia remains well behind Denmark, which has 5,500 projects up and running, many of those wind farms.

Scotland has more than 500 community energy projects, while Germany has 880 energy cooperatives.

 

Re-post ~ Investors snapping up community-energy projects | ABC News
Read more ~ The surprising asset ordinary Aussies are investing in | News.com.au

Outback pub brings hope and healing

A former vegetable farmer from Victoria has renovated a derelict outback pub with the aim of turning it into a community hub for local Aboriginal people. Andrew Stacey particularly wants to provide meaning and purpose for local youth by creating a place for all ages to meet, display their artwork and, he hopes, a whole lot more.

 

The 140-year-old Queens Head Hotel in Wilcannia has recently been re-opened as a community hub for the local Aboriginal community.

 

Mr Stacey decided to buy the Queens Head Hotel in Wilcannia and turn it into a community arts facility after chatting to locals to understand what their needs were and how they could best be met. He believes that an arts facility is a good ‘front’ for many other things that the town needs, such as advocacy, assistance and mentoring and education. He also hopes that the facility will act as a kind of ‘shopfront’ for visitors to the town.

Aboriginal locals are enthusiastic about the project, which was launched recently with a community art exhibition including the names of every local Aboriginal family.

 

“It’s going to be something that won’t fail … because to me it’s like a gathering place. Somewhere for people to go and sit, and meet up, and talk about issues in the town.”

 

Said Colleen Wilson, who attended the launch.

Stacey, who is also an artist, is happy to have been able to solidify his connection with the town, which he has felt very strongly since his first visit in 2016, describing it as ‘vivid and alive and warm and welcoming’.

“This was a great public house of drinking, and it’s a matter of great pride to see it converted to a public house of healing.”

Re-post ~ Derelict outback pub becomes ‘public house of healing’ for Indigenous locals in far west NSW on ABC News

What makes us happy at work? A new report on job satisfaction in Australia clues us in.

Rural workers are happier at work than their city-dwelling counterparts, according to a new report by Rebecca Cassells of Curtin University. The report, jointly published with the organisation Making Work Absolutely Human (mwah), aims to demonstrate which factors are most important for job satisfaction among Australians in order to make work ‘as human as possible’.

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Older workers are happier at work than younger workers, reflecting the fact that they often continue to work by choice

There is evidence that factors such as where we live can indeed influence how happy we are at work. For example, 38% of workers in remote or very remote areas reported that they were ‘very satisfied’ with their work as opposed to only 27% in major cities. The largest percentage of very satisfied workers live in Tasmania, whilst Western Australia has the least happy workforce. However, the reasons for this varied from state to state.

Interestingly, earnings only increase job satisfaction up to a point. Workers who are ‘satisfied’ with their job earn an average of $1,267 a week, whereas those who are ‘very satisfied’ only earn $1,183. This reflects the fact that those on a higher wage tend to work more hours which can impact on their personal life.

 

“The trade-off between happiness with certain aspects of a job and dissatisfaction with others is evident. It’s unlikely that any job will deliver everything that is needed to be happy at work, but certain things can help.”

 

Many other factors also make for a potentially more satisfying work life, according to the report. These include running your own business or working for a small, local business, who you work with, being able to work from home for some of the week and working outdoors.

Read more ~ Happy Workers: How Satisfied Are Australians At Work?

Tiny homes as a solution to homelessness in NSW

The Tiny Homes Foundation (THF) has received development approval for a pilot project in Gosford, NSW. The project, which is possibly the first of it’s kind in Australia, hopes to combat homelessness with a ‘homes first’ approach, using tiny houses as an affordable, replicable solution.

 

 

The pilot project of four 16sqm homes, next to Gosford Hospital, will also include a shared living area, laundry and veggie patch. Each home uses solar efficient design, includes a full kitchen and bathroom and has a finished cost of less than $30,000.

The success of the project has been made possible by involving partners from diverse sectors. THF co-founder and CEO David Wooldridge says that whilst tiny homes themselves are ingenious, this project goes even further:

 

What makes the THF initiative groundbreaking is the fact that it is Council approved, low cost, replicable and features Australia’s first ‘equity participation scheme for tenants’ whereby accommodation payments not applied to the cost and maintenance of the project will be available to THF tenants as needed for future housing related expenditure creating a pathway from homelessness to self support.

 

Tiny Homes Foundation are offering all of their plans, documentation and processes free of charge to encourage others to replicate the project elsewhere across Australia.

See here for the full article “Australia’s First Tiny Homes Project in NSW” on the Probono Australia website.

Putting people first in impact investment

Genuinely involving local people in impact investment can open up new investment pipelines and make for better outcomes for investors and communities, says Kelly Ryan from the US-based Incourage Community Foundation, in a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Incourage is a “place-based philanthropy, community developer, and impact investor” which has been working in a rural area of Central Wisconsin for over a decade. They are regenerating a local economy that was severely impacted by the sale of paper manufacturer Consolidated Papers in 2000. This led to a 40% loss of area jobs within three years.

 

Involving community in impact investment

 

We are forging a new operating model as true community steward; advancing a long-term vision of inclusive community where residents and institutions are equipped with the skills, tools, and agency to shape the communities they want.

 

Impact investment can be much more than a top-down injection of cash into a community. Focusing on community involvement can diversify the benefits, creating a bigger bang for each invested buck.

Ways of working

Kelly mentions three ways that Incourage apply this model within the community:

  1. Strengthening residents’ sense of ownership over the future of their region. Building community capacity by involving them directly in investment projects.
  2. Redefining people’s understanding of what has value in communities. Moving away from a purely financial capital mindset. Recognising and building on the social and intellectual capital of residents.
  3. Modelling values-aligned behaviour in their organisation. Discussions are then initiated on how this can be carried through in impact investments.

 

 

We have learned that an infusion of financial capital by itself does not yield behavior change and inclusive, sustainable economic growth. Change requires that we connect and leverage different kinds of capital ~ including moral, human, social, intellectual, reputational, and natural capital.

 

Local and Global

In order to have greater control over the way the wider economy impacts the community, Incourage also invest in and engage with companies who operate in their area to encourage business practices which have local benefits. They also take care to ensure that success is measured in terms of outcomes defined by the community itself as well as by global financial measures.

 

Read the original SSIR article on how Incourage are putting people and place at the centre of their impact investment strategy here.

Click here for a list of Impact Investment organisations within Australia.

African refugees reinvigorating rural Mingoola, Queensland

A radical grassroots resettlement plan has transformed an ageing rural community, bringing together two groups with very different problems. In the tiny township of Mingoola, on the border of New South Wales and Queensland, local woman Julia Harpham was grappling with a common problem in rural communities.

The population was in decline, enrolments at the local primary school were down and farmers could not find labourers to help with manual work. Her town was dying before her eyes.

“Many of us have children who work in the city and aren’t going to come back to the farm because things have been so tough on the land,” Ms Harpham said. “You don’t like to see a community die. And there’s not much joy in a place with no children.”

Three years ago the local progress association decided to take a leaf from the region’s migrant past and looked for refugees willing to move to the area.

But when they began contacting refugee agencies they were told there would not be adequate support for refugees in the bush. “Every time I contacted any kind of refugee service they all said, ‘oh, no, these people need to stay in the city,'”At the end of last year matters became more urgent, with the announcement Mingoola Primary School would close if there were no enrolments in the new year.

Refugees yearn for space
Meanwhile in Sydney, refugee advocate Emmanuel Musoni was grappling with problems in his community from central Africa. They had been displaced from Rwanda and neighbouring countries during years of bitter civil war.

The majority had rural backgrounds before having to flee their homes for refugee camps.

“If you ask them, ‘What was your dream when you applied to come to Australia and boarded the plane,’ they say, ‘We hoped we were going to be put in the countryside, to connect ourselves with agricultural life and have a garden’,” Mr Musoni said.

Instead they were resettled in cities where employment prospects were few, the environment was intimidating and many became depressed and isolated.

Moving to Mingoola
Mr Musoni led a small delegation from his community to Mingoola early this year to meet locals and see whether resettlement was viable.
On his return he put out a call for families willing to make the move; within a week he had a waiting list of 50.
He chose two families from Wollongong with 16 children between them. Six of the children were of primary school age, which would allow Mingoola Primary School to remain open.
Meanwhile, the community began renovating several abandoned houses in the area to accommodate the families, who moved to Mingoola in April.

Among the families who have settled there has been a great sense of gratitude.

“The people of Mingoola are good people, friendly people, lovely people,” refugee Jonathon Kanani said. “I don’t know how to say about the things that they do for us; I can’t describe that.”

Ms Harpham said she was being realistic about the situation. “We know that nothing is ever perfect,” she said. “But I’ve been stunned by the generosity of our community. Our priority is, are they happy? Because they weren’t happy in the city.”

For those involved in this social experiment, the hope is that its success can be replicated elsewhere to help other struggling rural communities. Mr Musoni now has 205 families on his database wanting to move out of the cities and politicians have been watching the Mingoola project with interest.

“I’ve had no hesitation in telling the Mingoola story, trying to encourage other people to look at the same program,” Mr George said.

Mr Musoni said the support so far had been encouraging.

“Julia and her community have shown it’s possible that regional communities can be welcoming to people from Africa,” he said. “They have broken the ice that was existing for us to get into the regional areas. So we feel so thankful to their efforts and their help.”

Re~Post: African refugees reinvigorating rural Mingoola in social experiment to boost ageing community | ABC

See more: A Field of Dreams ~ Australian Story ABC TV

Starfish Foundation receives Tax Deductible Donation Status!!!

Tax Deductible staus Yeah !!!!

In hugely exciting news, after nearly five years of negotiations, Starfish Initiatives is incredibly pleased ~ as well as incredibly relieved ~ to announce that the Starfish Foundation has been officially listed on the Register of Environmental Organisations ~ which means we are now able to receive tax deductible donations.

This is a very significant development for rural, regional and remote sustainability work ~ both ours and others.

Many of Starfish’s leading edge sustainability initiatives have generated significant interest with private philanthropists and grant-making foundations. However, only tax deductible charities, as we now are, can directly receive funding from these important supporters.

In addition, Starfish will now be able to incorporate public fundraising campaigns into our work where they are a good fit.

Thirdly, it is important to highlight that the purpose of Starfish Foundation is to raise and donate funds for rural, regional and remote sustainability work in all its forms ~ that is, over and above supporting Starfish Initiatives alone.

We passionately believe that Starfish Foundation will play an important role in addressing the funding short-fall for rural, regional and remote sustainability work.

Starfish Foundation

Over the coming months we will make plans for a formal launch of the Starfish Foundation. This launch is likely to coincide with some major announcements and fundraising campaigns for new sustainability initiatives we’ve been quietly working hard on in the background.

Lastly, we would like to acknowledge and thank the many people and partners who have contributed to this fantastic achievement, particularly:

  • LegalMinds for their seemingly tireless and open-ended generosity in working on a pro-bono basis with Starfish’s application for well over five years
  • Starfish’s Board of Directors, who have worked hard to adequately resource our work during this incredibly extended start-up phase without the authority to fundraise
  • Josette Wunder from The Earth Welfare Foundation who made pivotally important representations to the Australian Government on our behalf
  • The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal for supporting Starfish’s work over the last year ~ particularly Farming the Sun ~ with a Regional Donation Account
  • Representations made on our behalf by our Federal Members of Parliament (New England Electorate where Starfish’s registered office is situated) ~ Barnaby Joyce and Tony Windsor
  • Ultimately, the approval of our registration by Greg Hunt, Minister for the Environment.

Sacred mountains celebrate decade back under Aboriginal management

Sacred mountain handback

What began as a bold experiment ~ handing over control of two national parks in New South Wales to traditional Aboriginal owners a decade ago ~ is today being hailed as a landmark act of reconciliation.

In 2006 the NSW Government formally handed back Gulaga and Biamanga National Parks on the far south coast to the Yuin people, because of the significant cultural sites they contain and the living links to local Indigenous groups.

Gulaga, which was previously formally known as Mount Dromedary, is an imposing 823-metre mountain rising near the coastal town of Narooma. Biamanga National Park includes Mumbulla Mountain, further south in the Bega valley.

To the Yuin people, Gulaga is known as the Mother Mountain, and has always been a woman’s place. It includes sacred sites where Aboriginal women would retreat for storytelling, ceremony and childbirth.

Meanwhile Mumbulla was a traditional men’s mountain, and contains initiation sites where boys would become men of the Yuin tribe.

The Board of Management Chair for Gulaga, Iris White, said the park was a “beautiful” and “spiritual” place.

The energy the Yuin people have harnessed from Gulaga mountain took a very practical form when they successfully lobbied the NSW Government for traditional ownership back in 2006. Biamanga Board chair Paul Stewart said it was the culmination of decades of struggle for legal recognition of Indigenous links to their land.

“I’m just so happy to put something back,” Mr Stewart said. “Something 10 years ago that we used to drive past and say to our kids, ‘that’s ours’ … now we have got the chance to manage it.”

Traditional ownership of the national parks areas means they are managed in very different ways to other parks. For instance, a recently released Plan of Management allows Indigenous owners to close the parks to public access for cultural purposes such as initiation rites. It also allows for the possibility of traditional fire management and hunting on site.

National Parks area manager Preston Cope said those land uses required a rethink for their agency. “There are a lot of native bush tucker foods around this park,” Mr Cope said. “In a normal park, it would be illegal to collect plant material, but in this park if you’re an Aboriginal owner and you get permission from the board, then you can come and do that. “Guns cannot be used ~ they have to use traditional methods for hunting.”

Under the joint management arrangement, decisions about the running of the parks are made by the two boards, and implemented by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. “One of [the board’s] aspirations is for developing tourism on the park,” Mr Cope said. “If we were managing the park without Aboriginal owners involved, it would be a much more straight-forward business. We have to have everybody in agreeance with how the cultural heritage will be interpreted, and to do that, requires a fair bit of work that we wouldn’t normally do.”

However, all parties agree that traditional ownership of the two sacred mountains has led to a cultural revival, especially for young people who are now learning their culture.

Re-post ~ Sacred mountains celebrate decade back under Aboriginal management | ABC News

Read more ~ National Parks & Wildlife Service NSW Management Plans