Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

In many rural communities, non-denominational school chaplains promote strong community connection, participation opportunities and engagement to reduce isolation and encourage better physical and mental health. While these positions are generally funded through local donations, in recent years there simply hasn’t been the money to fund them locally due to drought and, more recently, reduced tourism from COVID-19 restrictions.

Through FRRR’s Tackling Tough Times Together grant program, Scripture Union Queensland received $131,490 to support chaplaincy positions at Ravenswood State School, Charter Towers Central State School and Mareeba State School until June 2022. The grant was made possible through generous donations from the Sidney Myer Fund and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation. 

This funding ensures all programs and activities coordinated by the chaplains, including one-on-one pastoral care conversations and classroom support, are free for all children, young people, families and school staff. These activities help to reduce isolation and increase wellbeing and community participation in communities suffering from the long-term effects of drought.

Since funds were awarded in 2019, the schools have been able to implement change and growth within their chaplaincy programs. At Ravenswood State School, chaplain Anne – a much loved member of the community – was finally able to retire at 83 years old. Her position has been filled by a long term local Charters Towers resident, who works two days a week.

The chaplain at Charter Towers has been able to increase her support to two days a week and is seeing a positive response to the ‘Girls with a Purpose Resilience’ program. Twelve students completed the program in 2019 and there was general consensus among the participants that it was a special time engaging with facilitators and peers. After the COVID-19 school closure in 2020, all girls in grade 6 are now taking part in the program.

A particular highlight for the Mareeba State School has been the implementation of the Bike-Bus program to encourage regular physical activity and increase school attendance and social and community engagement. Since being established in mid-2019, the program has engaged 30 students, as well as parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers and police. It also led to the creation of the Bike Repair Club – an alternative for those who enjoy hands on learning, with all students becoming much more engaged in their education.

The principal of the Mareeba State School, Mandy Whybird, noted the program’s positive impact.

“Our school chaplain provides an invaluable source of support for the students at Mareeba State School. Aside from running friendship groups, supporting children in classes and running lunchtime activities for children who may find the playground challenging, our chaplain also assists in providing breakfasts for children in need and working with children who may have experienced loss or trauma.

“The chaplain also assists to support staff well-being. When our school was shaken by the loss of a teacher last year, our Chaplain was integral to the recovery process for staff,” Ms Whybird said.

The Bushfire Recovery Fund grant program, funded by HMSTrust and the Sidney Myer Fund, has recently awarded a grant of $120,000 to be paid over three years to Indigenous organisation Jaithmathang TABOO, who are working on Country in North East Victoria to support regeneration in the landscape’s recovery from the 2019/20 bushfires, and support cultural healing.  

The project, titled “Beginning the journey to cultural healing on Jaithmathang country’, will operate a program of annual cool burns and work with key environment and government stakeholders, including Parks Victoria and DELWP, to share learnings.  

Specifically, the grant aims to build the capacity of the organisation by contributing to the cost of employing a Jaithmathang descendant to lead the project over the next three years for the purposes of realising Jaithmathang goals in establishing ongoing partnerships that can support Jaithmathang operating sustainably into the future as custodians on Country.

Capacity building grants support long-term recovery initiatives of local not-for-profits and community organisations

FRRR has awarded grants to four Victorian community groups playing a central role in the long-term recovery of communities impacted by the 2019/20 bushfires.

Local groups playing a critical role in Victoria’s bushfire recovery to receive $400,000 in funding

The grants are the first to be awarded through the Bushfire Recovery Fund established thanks to a multi-year partnership with the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust (HMSTrust) and the Sidney Myer Fund. The program is designed to strengthen the capacity of local not-for-profit organisations and community groups operating in fire-affected areas to support the ongoing recovery of communities.

Natalie Egleton, CEO of FRRR, said that having access to longer-term, multi-year support is vital when it comes to creating effective solutions on the ground to allow these communities to recover and thrive.

“These grants recognise the vital role of these organisations and invest in the skills, tools and resources they need to support their community as they rebuild, and to sustain their work beyond the recovery. With the additional pressure of COVID-19, this multi-year support will mean they can confidently plan, invest and be there to support their community as needs change,” Ms Egleton said.

HMSTrust CEO, Debra Morgan, said that the Trust believes local organisations are best placed to understand local needs, and that this is particularly the case in bushfire-affected areas, where it’s critical that organisations have the support they need to sustain their operations.

“The four organisations have identified the needs specific to their communities, and each has a unique approach to the road to recovery. The projects reflect the local context of each community and the interventions required for long-term recovery. We are pleased to support these strong organisations seeking to build organisational capacity and resilience, and we hope they will serve to strengthen the communities into the future,” Ms Morgan said.

Sidney Myer Fund CEO, Leonard Vary, said that the Bushfire Recovery Fund aims to strengthen the operations of ‘backbone’ organisations and give each the means to implement effective and innovative approaches in supporting impacted communities over the longer term.

“Local organisations must be given the tools to develop and implement plans for sustainability and growth so as to support bushfire-affected communities into the future. These grants will help enhance organisational capability and improve the services offered to communities including future preparedness efforts,” said Mr Vary.

The four groups funded are:

  • Alpine Valley Community Leadership (AVCL) – $90,000 – Build AVCL’s capacity to strategically plan and deliver leadership training that can more effectively support and build community recovery capacity in north-east Victoria.
  • Corryong Neighbourhood House Inc – $103,340 – Increase operational capacity by providing an additional .8 FTE to the core staffing levels. The increased resource will enable Corryong Neighbourhood House Inc to continue to progress its strategic social enterprise and community development work including participation in bushfire recovery work.
  • Mallacoota Community Health Infrastructure and Resilience Fund Inc (CHIRF) – $113,230 – Enable the employment of a skilled local project manager, who will progress the current aims for developing the local mental health services offering through strategic planning, fundraising and project design and development.
  • Mount Beauty Neighbourhood Centre (MBNC) – $100,000 – Increase operational capacity of the organisation, which will allow it to develop a prepared and resilient community. The driving force behind this application is the volunteer-run Keep Calm Committee, which works alongside MBNC.

More information about the Bushfire Recovery Fund is on this website.

Supporting capacity of organisations in Victoria’s bushfire-impacted communities

FRRR has announced a multi-year partnership with the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust (HMSTrust) and the Sidney Myer Fund to build the capacity of local organisations playing a central, coordinating or networking role in the recovery of Victorian communities affected by the 2019/20 bushfires.

New partnership backs community-led recovery

The Bushfire Recovery Fund will award grants of up to $90,000 to community groups and local not-for-profit organisations working in Victorian fire-affected regions. The program will fund initiatives that enhance, improve or sustain operations of these keystone organisations for up to three years, and therefore strengthen community-led recovery over the medium and long-term.

Natalie Egleton, CEO of FRRR, said that the partnership is a result of a shared vision for aligning funding and support to community-led solutions that build resilience and continued viability and vitality.

“FRRR and our generous donor partners HMSTrust and the Sidney Myer Fund have come together to help local groups to be more viable, resilient, and sustainable. The program is designed to help address organisational needs, and strengthen capacity to adapt and respond to the changing or emerging needs of communities.

“FRRR’s role will be to act as a facilitator, to encourage and support these community groups so that they can continue to do the work that is so important to the ongoing recovery of their communities,” Ms Egleton said.

HMSTrust Executive Officer Lin Bender said that the Trust believes the key program goal of building organisational capacity is critical to ensuring local groups can operate in what are challenging economic, emotional, and ecological conditions.

“By supporting applicants that are deeply engaged with their communities to sustain or adapt their model or way of working, we aim to ensure more viable, resilient and sustainable organisations that can support ongoing recovery efforts,” Lin said.

Sidney Myer Fund CEO Leonard Vary said the broader intent of the program is to inform disaster recovery best practice by understanding and addressing the needs of critical community ‘backbone’ organisations.

“The capacity to manage normal day-to-day operations along with the demands of recovery has been identified as a challenge for many organisations in bushfire-affected communities,” Mr Vary said. “By engaging directly with these organisations, we can facilitate and fund not only the development of locally relevant, multi-year projects that build capacity and resilience but potentially identify new approaches to long-term community recovery.”

To reduce the burden on potential applicants, a shortlist of organisations from declared fire affected areas in Victoria, identified through broad stakeholder consultation, will be invited to apply for funding. The first successful grantees are expected to be announced in October 2021. Organisations who consider this opportunity to be aligned to their situation should contact FRRR to discuss their needs.

More information about the program can be found here.

It’s hard not to smile when entering George Town Neighbourhood House. The community centre is a vibrant place, buzzing with people working to fight structural disadvantages in the area. With a couple of full-time staff and around a dozen loyal volunteers, this Neighbourhood House exists to create a safer and more inclusive and resilient community by supporting disadvantaged people and families.

But maintaining their high level of engagement and attracting new visitors was a challenge for their small team. They needed an extra pair of hands, someone who could help them reach the right people and promote the programs throughout the community. They submitted a brilliant application to the Strengthening Rural Communities program and, thanks to the Sidney Myer Fund, received $10,000 in grants to help cover the wages for their new communications officer.


But then came the next challenge – COVID-19. Suddenly, many of the community-engagement activities they had planned for the new staff member were impossible, or even illegal, to execute. This could have thrown a real spanner in the works for George Town Neighbourhood House… but nay! Instead of crumbling under the new restrictions, they found ways to adapt – and even thrive – in spite of them.


“We had to change how we interacted with the community from the end of March this year … We had to cease all face-to-face contact,” a staff member said. And it worked! They connected with residents online, engaged in collaborations with other organisations and even scored some airtime on the local radio station.


The highlight, the team agreed, was their Online Family Baking project. With Port Dalrymple School donating a big batch of ingredients, the Neighbourhood House could provide a baking-kit for 20 families in the community, complete with video instructions on how to bake delicious chocolate crackles. “We had a very good response and,” they told us. Following the success of this first bake-off, the Neighbourhood House were able to offer a second round of baking for the families who missed out – this time for Anzac biscuits.


In the end, this little community centre managed to positively benefit some 1,500 people with their grant, including the 40 families who participated in the baking project.
“We are very proud with how we were able to adapt, and still engage and extend to our community, in-spite of all the current COVID-19 issues,” a support worker said.