Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)
The Cobargo Wellness Group formed following the bushfires that devastated the region on New Year’s Eve in the final hours of 2019. They exist to assist individuals and communities to thrive after crisis with emotional and physical support through creative projects, groups and events.
Ongoing impacts on local communities following bushfires, COVID 19 and floods meant an increased demand for their popular programs ‘Thriving After Crisis’, which is being developed into an online course, and ‘Ginger the Frog’, a theatre production for children and the young at heart. In response Cobargo Wellness Group sought to further enhance these programs to reach more local parents and children.
Grant funds of $10,000 from FRRR’s Investing in not-for-profit capacity program were used to bring in more hands and expertise to help with project planning, website design, and create a documentary of the Ginger the Frog production and journey. Ginger the Frog then toured three LGA’s – Coffs Harbour, Nambucca Shire and Hawkesbury Shire to great reviews.
‘Children wanted to go back and see the show straight after they’d just seen it, parents brought their friends for another session, the kids went crazy when it was time to join in with the activities and dancing’.
The Thriving After Crisis program was promoted alongside Ginger the Frog events to provide another support for families dealing with trauma. A future goal is to build on the scale of the show, with ambitions to tour it around the country and even internationally.
Around 800 children, parents and teachers were able to enjoy fun filled shows which included activities, dancing, laughter and wellness techniques. Cobargo Wellness Group reported it was a great opportunity for community connection, warmth, laughter, song and dance, all of which the group believes are the best way forward when recovering from a crisis. A further benefit to local residents is they will receive a digital version of the Ginger the Frog program for free along with access to the Thriving After Crisis program.
Upon reflecting on the success of the project, which involved hard work and long hours to bring it all together, Cobargo Wellness Group told us “joyous occasions create great memories, open the heart, and build connection and courage to work together as a community.”
“I’m also very proud of the fact that in my own community, organisations and the general community trust us now to offer quality programs and events.”
Tackling stigma around youth mental health
Mental health difficulties are the most common health challenges for young people, with between 20-25% of Australian adolescents experiencing a mental health or substance abuse issue in any given year. In the Bega Valley, youth mental health has been identified as a major issue facing the region. With a lack of public transport, limited education opportunities and few social spaces for young people – outside of playing a sport – a youth dance organisation has become an important alternative and a vital hub for self-expression and creativity.
Bega-based fLiNG Physical Theatre provides opportunities for young people to work with local and visiting professional artists to create original contemporary performance projects. They aim to give voice to regional perspectives, and designed a powerful youth-centric research and performance project called ‘My Black Dog”, which set out to learn about and support the mental health of young people living in the Bega Valley.
The project had two components; the creation of a moving, original performance exploring youth mental health, and the design and delivery of wellbeing workshops for high school students exploring how they can creatively and practically support their wellbeing. But to deliver it, they needed increased resourcing and capacity.
A grant of $17,700 from FRRR’s In a Good Place program, funded by CCI Giving, was awarded and spread across the project to help realise the final performance outcome. It enabled the employment of two fLiNG Alumni, who returned to the Bega Valley to perform in the work, demonstrating potential future pathways for younger fLiNG Company members, who look to these people as role models. Funds also supported a local year 12 fLiNG Alumni to be employed to co-deliver the Art & Wellbeing workshops in schools around the region, ensuring the program is relevant and speaks on the level of those it’s being delivered to.
The live performance, entitled ‘My Black Dog’, was co-created with fLiNG Company members (14-18yrs) across all aspects of activity. The work’s themes – isolation, disconnection, grief and bullying – were set in a school context, and recognisable for many in the young audience. The uncomfortable territory also revealed the characters’ resilience and capacity for them to reach out and support one another.
It ran for a season of eight performances. This project reached more than 750 individuals, and the Art & Wellbeing workshops were delivered to 152 students in local schools. It all helped to break down stigma, learn about what is occurring in the community, and help generate conversation on an issue that is often difficult to talk about. Each performance was supported by local mental health professionals.
The community response to the show was exceptional, and many were inspired to share their own stories. Exploring and talking about the difficulties that young people come up against is the best way to begin to solve and heal them, and fLiNG Physical Theatre is contributing to the conversation in a highly creative and collaborative way. It was the recipient of the 2019 WayAhead Mental Health Matters Award for Youth, and shortlisted for an Australian Dance Award.
Gabriella Rose, fLiNG’s Co-Artistic Director, explained that the project has enabled a deeper understanding of how mental health issues may present in a young person, and what things can be done to support them.
“It has also revealed the enormity of the problem in regional areas, the lack of infrastructure and support available to isolated people. Through round table discussions with school welfare officers, mental health workers, parents and teens, it revealed how overwhelming the situation can be, but also how hard people are working to build better support structures around vulnerable young people in our community.”
The project’s final report also notes:
“Ultimately the My Black Dog project reiterated that within our community, mental health issues are common, and they can impact everyone. fLiNG’s Artistic Directors saw the Bega Valley community take up the offer to connect with this work and to start a conversation. The more we talk about mental health, the better we will become at looking after ourselves, recognising when we need support, and helping each other get through it.”
Storytelling is a vital part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, allowing beliefs and concepts to be passed on through generations. JUTE Theatre Company (JUTE) uses theatre performance and workshop participation to present professional role models and positive stories about a range of Indigenous experiences and possible futures.
Founded in Cairns in 1992, JUTE helps Indigenous students feel valued and connected, by letting them see their cultures and stories represented on stage. There are also longer-term benefits in employment and post-school options for young Indigenous people. Since the beginning of its Dare to Dream program, JUTE has impacted over 6,000 young people and community members in remote parts of North Queensland with more than 3,600 young people taking part in skills development workshops.
With the support of a $15,000 ANZ Seeds of Renewal grant, JUTE was able to take its 2019 show, The Longest Minute, to 10 North Queensland schools in Lockhart River, Bamaga, Mapoon, Mossman, Ravenshoe, Yarrabah, Mt Isa, Doomadgee and Cloncurry – all very remote locations with significant numbers of Indigenous students. The Longest Minute is a story about the 2015 National Rugby League Grand Final, won by local heroes, North Queensland Cowboys in a nail-biting finish.
The funding helped JUTE refine its school program to meet a broad range of needs across artists and facilitators, community, schools and students.
“It was fantastic,” said one of the Mapoon teachers. “The acting was incredible, and it offered our students an opportunity to see successful Indigenous people who are proud of their identity performing at their best. This is something we don’t have easy access to, being so remote.”