Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)
At FRRR, we’re in a very privileged position to hear first-hand from community groups, through conversations on the phone, in-person visits and reading grant applications. Below we’ve gathered some of the key themes that have emerged over the last quarter. If you’d like to know more, get in touch with us and we’d be happy to elaborate.
What are the great opportunities and things to celebrate?
Innovation and sustainability are top of mind: Rural groups in outback areas are increasingly using social enterprises to increase local employment opportunities, including offering services for tourists’ during the dry season.
For communities in our place-based capacity building program in NSW – IRCF – developing sustainable funding models for small NFP’s is a priority, with many expressing an interest in social enterprise models.
Communities are embracing renewable energy storage and we are seeing increasing requests (especially from applications to SRC in NSW) for solar panels and batteries, specifically focused on providing power during disasters.
Programs for social and emotional connection are thriving and requests for funding for such projects is increasing in NSW. Communities are using lots of different events/activities to bring people together such as festivals, activities related to the arts, community lunches. Men’s emotional wellbeing is also getting more focus, albeit indirectly via social events that don’t directly focus on the issue. Instead, the focus is on creating connection and reducing social isolation.
Young people continue to take action on issues that are meaningful to them. Recent themes include ensuring access to STEM learning and experiences for children in remote locations, raising awareness about disability to remove barriers so everyone can achieve their dreams, and being proactive about conversations that shine a light on mental health in the regions. Funding support can be game changing to help generate momentum for their actions to be seen, and voices to be heard.
Community communication networks are key to the success of community led preparedness efforts. Volunteer-run Community Recovery Committees’ (CRC’s), which were formed in most Victoria local government areas impacted by the 2019/20 bushfires, are still working tirelessly toward their objective of community-led preparedness. Working with Councils and emergency service agencies, these local systems for communication intend to ensure critical information is delivered consistently and through both formal and informal local communication channels to reach as many people as possible.
Grants are important but so too is capacity building. We take pride in the fact that we offer ‘more than money’, spending considerable time each year coaching and supporting applicants, providing guidance to help them shape an application and tailored feedback if they are unsuccessful. Sometimes that support is on the phone, other times face to face. Earlier this year, the team did three trips across regional Queensland, spending 28 days on the road in total, meeting 85 organisations one on one, many of whom were new to FRRR. It’s rewarding when our support pays off, as has happened recently. One applicant was unsuccessful in three rounds but took on board feedback and their project has now been recommended. This is especially gratifying as it is a project led by a local organisation in a remote, deeply COVID-impacted First Nations community.
What’s challenging RRR communities?
RRR Australia is in no way immune to strain of cost-of-living increases, housing shortages and inflation: Social service and food security organisations are seeing large spikes in need, with some NSW food pantries now servicing more people than at the height of bushfire recovery. On recent visits to regional Queensland, the team observed escalating impacts from these costs, especially in accessing fruit and veg.
Housing shortages are limiting communities’ opportunity for economic and social growth. Barriers like a lack of available land and an inability to secure finance, particularly in remote locations, limit opportunities for housing, and as such, economic and social growth. In some cases, we heard that banks require 40% deposit.
Community groups are finding it challenging to confidently budget projects happening months in the future, and remote areas are applying for larger COVID recovery grants to mitigate increasing costs of transport and goods.
The marathon of recovery continues: Some bushfire-impacted communities are concerned about how they will manage long-term recovery, with the Australian Government’s Black Summer Bushfire Recovery funding winding up. In addition, many flood impacted communities on the eastern seaboard have reported feeling abandoned and isolated, as recovery funding dries up, and with many residents remaining displaced awaiting essential repairs to their homes and local infrastructure. This all leads to additional pressure to housing and to demand for support from grassroots groups.
Community organisations are stretched and volunteer capacity is low: Many communities note high levels of pressure placed on local not-for-profit groups under these circumstances with some ceasing to operate leaving some communities without access to services. A few champion volunteers are often driving the work of multiple community groups, featuring on multiple committees, and while this leadership is incredible, it makes succession planning a challenge for small communities without a pool of individuals to draw from. Our SRC program is even starting to see an increase in return of funds and project variation requests, mainly due to the impacts of disaster events, lack of volunteer capacity. Ongoing community fatigue is also impacting participation and general readiness to participate in many drought-preparedness projects – and some regions are already moving into drought conditions.
Round 17 of our Strengthening Rural Communities program received the most applications of any program since we began. We’re delighted to have such great presence for RRR community organisations, but other factors such as the impact of disasters, delay in releasing new grant programs from the new NSW Government and increasing costs facing organisations are also responsible for the high application rate.