Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)

FRRR has awarded $213,343 via Telstra’s Connected Communities Grant Program to 30 local groups and not-for-profits (NFPs) across remote, rural and regional Australia for projects embracing technology to foster the resilience, environmental sustainability and liveability of their communities.

RiverSmart Australia Ltd is using their grant to grow cultural and environmental knowledge of the rivers and wetlands around Warren by the creation of an app to provide information and digital upskilling to the community.

This is the first round of Telstra’s Connected Communities Grant Program, which is the core of its new partnership with FRRR (announced February 2023).  The focus of the program is on fostering a resilient community, a more sustainable community or a more liveable community.

Awarded grants range from $1,849, which will be used to provide the Victorian community of Strathbogie with access to free Wi-Fi at the local hall, through to $10,000, for projects such as Collinsville Connect Telecentre Group’s cyber security workshop for older members of their Queensland community.

Loretta Willaton, Regional Australia Executive and Regional Customer Advocate at Telstra, said the program’s impacts go beyond simply supplying internet or technology.

“We’re really excited to see this program beginning to come to fruition and to see funding going to rural communities that have been doing it really tough the last few years.

“This round of grants has highlighted the ways in which digital connectivity goes hand-in-hand with social and cultural connectivity. How these factors complement one another has a strong impact on the liveability of a community, so it makes sense that a majority of funded projects are designed to equip locals with the skills to live, learn and work in a digital society.

“That’s what this program is all about – keeping people connected in the most important sense of the word,” Ms Willaton said.

This round saw most projects fall into the liveability category, with a range of initiatives being funded like the provision of Wi-Fi connectivity, new digital equipment, the training of volunteers and community members to build their digital knowledge, be it for cyber security, social media or simply navigating new computing hardware and software that would contribute to better operations of community events and organisations.

Natalie Egleton, FRRR’s CEO, said that there was a lot of interest in the program, with the Foundation receiving many applications for high quality projects.

“Keeping rural communities connected has never been more important, which was reflected by the strong response we received from communities all over remote, rural and regional Australia.

“Community organisations and local not-for-profits (NFPs) in rural communities are clearly keen to make sure locals have the equipment and the knowledge they need to engage in activities that are often taken for granted in metro areas. That might be spreading important information quickly, increasing opportunities for education or providing access to the electronic resources that become vital in emergency situations.

“With so many impressive initiatives on the table, we are grateful that Telstra increased its commitment this year to more than $213,000. There are so many different ways to keep a community connected, and more importantly, a lot of positive outcomes that can be achieved and we look forward to seeing these ideas come to life,” Ms Egleton said.

Some other examples of the projects being funded are below:

  • RiverSmart Australia Limited – Warren, NSW – Grow cultural and environmental knowledge of the rivers and wetlands around Warren by the creation of an app to provide information and digital upskilling to the community. $10,000
  • Goondir Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Corporation for Health Services – Dalby QLD – Improve digital capability of First Nations health service with video conferencing equipment to enhance staff and stakeholder communications improving overall service delivery to clients. $10,000
  • Callington A & H Society Inc – Callington, SA – Build organisational capacity with software to improve local show operations, developing digital capability for volunteers, efficiencies for participants. $3,700
  • Live Well Tasmania Wynyard, TAS – Build community resilience with preparedness by purchasing equipment to provide power during outages including a generator, solar panels, and rechargeable radios and torches. $5,398
  • Poowong Public Hall Inc Poowong, VIC – Improve community facilities with a digital tv and laptop for the Poowong Hall meeting facilities to enhance functionality and support increased use. $2,312
  • Broome Community Resource Centre Inc – Broome, WA – Support community digital access with upgraded computers ensuring people in and around Broome have access and can be trained in current software use for social and economic needs. $10,000

A full list of grant recipients is detailed below.

Bathurst Information and Neighbourhood Centre IncorporatedConnecting Our Community
Build community capacity to meet, train and connect by providing Wi-Fi internet to the Bathurst Neighbourhood Centre community meeting room.
Broadwater Rileys Hill Community CentreStrengthening IT Access and Literacy for Broadwater Residents
Boost technological skills and digital connectivity for vulnerable residents in Broadwater by conducting IT training sessions and upgrading computer software.
Eden Community Access Centre IncSouthern Cyber Safety
Boost community knowledge around cyber safety in Eden and surrounding communities by providing specialist IT training for six months and offering a weekly drop-in service for checking device security.
Lachlan and Western Regional Services IncEmpowered Connections
Boost organisational digital capability to better support remote community members' social and economic outcomes.
RiverSmart Australia LimitedUsing Digital Technology to Discover Tiger Bay
Grow cultural and environmental knowledge of the rivers and wetlands around Warren by the creation of an app to provide information and digital upskilling to the community.
Wardell Community Organised Resilience Effort IncWardell Community Organised Resilience Effort
Boost community resilience with training and equipment to support digital capability and connectivity during disasters.
Cape York Digital Network Pty LtdFall-back Server
Build capacity of the Cape York Digital Network to enable connectivity in remote Queensland with a new server to manage increasing demands.
Collinsville Connect Telecentre Group IncorporatedCyber Security Sessions for Seniors
Boost digital capability for older people through a cyber security workshop to enhance skills and risk management.
Goondir Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Corporation for Health ServicesImproving Digital Capability for Better Collaboration
Improve digital capability of First Nations health service with video conferencing equipment to enhance staff and stakeholder communications, improving overall service delivery to clients.
North Burnett Regional SES Queensland Fire and Emergency ServicesNorth Burnett State Emergency Service Digital Connectivity
Improve digital connectivity with equipment to improve connectivity operation to enhance operational capacity and better quality training for QFES in North Burnett.
Numabulla Men's Shed Inc.IT Education and Access Program 
Improve digital capability and literacy with technology equipment at the Men's Shed to deliver access and education.
QCWA Branch Upper StoneConnecting our Community
Build community resilience and preparedness with an inverter generator and mobile booster to ensure power and connectivity in disasters and emergencies.
Upper Stone$8,125
St Vincent de Paul Society QueenslandExpanding Our Virtual Reach in Far North QLD
Enhance digital capacity and literacy of volunteers with equipment and training that will benefit the broader community accessing services.
State Emergency Service - Charters Towers Queensland Fire and Emergency ServicesMobile Operations Centre
Build preparedness and resilience in communities by upgrading the QFES Mobile Operation Centre with radios and back-up solar power to deliver disaster preparedness education and enable connectivity in extreme weather events across the Charters Towers region.
Charters Towers$10,000
Whitfield Community Kindergarten Association IncWater Tank and Weather Station
Support early child development and learning on environmental sustainability with digital tools to understand weather and water accessibility.
Callington A & H Society IncCallington Show - Online Software
Build organisational capacity with software to improve local show operations, developing digital capability for volunteers and efficiencies for participants.
Moorook Bowling Club IncorporatedFuture Connections
Increase community capacity with digital connection via a mobile booster to support access to the internet in Moorook.
Parndana Soldier Settlement Museum Parndana Progress AssociationAdding to the Mosaic
Improve digital literacy and capability of local museum volunteers with software, equipment and a website upgrade to better present and promote local history.
Southern Yorke Peninsula Community Hub IncorporatedLet's Get Social! Social Media Content Marketing 101 for SYP Volunteers & Community Groups
Upskill community group volunteers to increase their efficiency in navigating the digital world.
Clarendon Vale Neighbourhood Centre IncCommunities Connect
Foster a more inclusive and connected community, by providing access to digital resources.
Clarendon Vale$9,510
King Island Regional Development Organisation Inc 2520Digital Literacy Workshops and Buddy Program
Improve digital literacy for the King Island community with an upgrade of technology and delivery of digital training and mentoring to build capability.
Live Well TasmaniaCommunity, Power and Communications Resilience Equipment
Build community resilience with preparedness by purchasing equipment to provide power during outages including a generator, solar panels and rechargeable radios and torches.
Central Victorian Biolinks Alliance IncConnecting People to Restore and Reconnect Nature
Build organisational capacity of Biolinks Alliance with computer equipment, software and subscriptions to increase dissemination of educational information for repairing regional ecosystems.
Poowong Public Hall IncEquipment for Training in Meeting Room 2 of the Poowong Public Hall Inc 
Improve community facilities with a digital TV and laptop for the Poowong Hall meeting facilities to enhance functionality and support increased use.
Strathbogie Memorial Hall Incorporated Strathbogie Memorial Hall Wi-Fi
Boost digital connectivity for the community of Strathbogie by providing free Wi-Fi access at the local hall.
Wodonga Urban Landcare NetworkStrive to Thrive - Connecting Environmental Volunteers
Build community capability for improved environmental sustainability practice via a new website to share information and educate volunteers and the wider community surrounding Wodonga.
Woomelang & District Development AssocWebsite Redevelopment Project
Strengthen community engagement and connection through the creation of a website for Woomelang township to share information for locals and tourists.
Albany & Regional Volunteer Service IncCommunity eSafe Clubs - Equipping Clubs to Confidently Embrace the Use of Digital Technologies
Build volunteer capacity with cyber security workshops to develop digital literacy and upskill people working in community to manage information online with confidence.
Broome Community Resource Centre IncPublic Access Computers - Technology Refresh and Enhancement
Support community digital access with upgraded computers, ensuring people in and around Broome have access and can be trained in current software use for social and economic needs.
Harvey Aboriginal CorporationConnecting Community, Culture and Computers
Provide access to digital resources and First Nations language and culture learning opportunities to students of Harvey by purchasing an interactive whiteboard, tablets and monitors.

COVID-19 has impacted rural communities in countless ways, with increased vulnerability and disadvantage being felt in many communities grappling with successive setbacks, including drought, bushfire and existing disadvantages exacerbated by imposed restrictions.

This means FRRR’s work is more important than ever, as Australia emerges from and transitions into new ways of working, living and delivering services.

While FRRR staff are still working from home, they are connecting daily with communities across the country. Below are some of the insights from the calls, queries and requests they are receiving day to day.

There have been high levels of caller concern around the mental health of their communities, given COVID follows several natural disaster events. NSW/ACT Program Manager Jacki Dimond says that there are also increased personal stress levels around not being able to deliver on approved grant activities and / or timelines. She has been spending much of her time considering more project variations than usual.

“Callers have reflected much relief for the support of our flexibility and desire to support them through the variations process to identify alternative activities or delivery mechanisms, such as the Gunning Arts Festival going online, or extending or deferring acquittal periods where needed, ” Jacki noted.

Vivienne McCrory, Grants Officer for Victoria, SA and Tasmania, echoes Jacki’s comments noting that bushfire affected communities are asking if programs will be assessed the same way due to COVID-19.

“They are still applying, but not sure if the project will still go ahead as planned due to restrictions and whether it would affect their grant chances. They have mentioned exhaustion and frustration over the flow of events since Christmas (on top of the drought).”

Another common theme is while some groups have the option to take activities online, inconsistent telecommunications access and mixed levels of digital literacy means it’s not a realistic option for some groups.

“For example, I received a phone call recently from the Yinnar Memorial Hall over 60’s Exercise group. We have funded the program for two years and up to 40 people were coming each week. They are now delivering the program via zoom and many elderly members are having issues connecting. The internet is also poor in the area!,” explained Hannah Jakab, who works on FRRR’s disaster recovery programs.

VIC/SA/TAS Program Manager Carlene Egan is seeing increased requests to fund local people to take on recovery coordination roles.

“Bushfire affected communities are taking charge of their own recovery with known and trusted people and ensuring funds are directed to where they identify as most needed.”

From a drought support perspective, Deanne Cavalier is seeing reduced volunteer capacity due to COVID-19.

“Conversations with community groups have identified a decrease in volunteering at this time due to the pandemic, as their focus turns towards their families and concerns of job security and general fatigue. Volunteers are often older and health and safety concerns relating to COVID-19 this naturally has had flow-on effects on the capacity of community groups to maintain continuity of services and their ability to maintain momentum on community-focused projects.”

While it’s no longer on the front pages, drought is still a very real issue in large parts of the country as this map of Queensland shows, and this story from WA. 

“Despite the wetter start to 2020, the long-term accumulated rainfall deficiencies continue in many parts of Australia and with these continued deficiencies over an extended period, drought continues to be prevalent across much of rural Australia and recovery will be a slow process,” explains Deanne. 

Meanwhile, Alli Mudford, Program Manager for the Investing in Rural Community Futures (IRCF) program says that it highlights the importance of building capacity, not just funding ‘things’.

“Building good relationships within each community is a critical foundation for success. The benefits from regular facilitated connections (rather than just providing grants) must not be underestimated and the IRCF evaluation has processes in place to incorporate these learnings.

“We are also seeing that capacity change in the not-for-profit sector crosses generations. Insights show that the younger generation are more than willing to work with and across other not-for-profit groups in the community.”

Rural communities are eternal optimists and innovators and despite the challenges, community groups have been able to adapt their models to keep a source of income, such as offering delivery services, making hand sanitiser or face masks. We are inspired by the growing success of community-led solutions – especially the renewal of local media ownership, which is a reversal of media closure trends.