Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

West Coast Connect (WCC) was established in 2013 to support social and economic development around Queenstown and the west coast of Tasmania. With a staff of four, a committee of five, and 25 volunteers, WCC aims to provide supportive core services that encourage a shared, communal impact to socio-economic issues within the community and the region.

Growing training opportunities

With the West Coast of Tasmania losing their TAFE Tasmania Campus over 10 years ago, community members only had access to training organisations that are located a minimum of 200km away.

To address skill shortages and provide job opportunities, WCC decided to offer vocational training in horticulture, conservation, land management and landscaping. They devised a plan for a new training facility to offer short courses and vocational training in conjunction with TasTAFE – BUT first they needed to equip the training grounds with essential infrastructure.

On the ground training aims to raise local employment

WCC secured a Strengthening Rural Communities grant of $9,200 to purchase a greenhouse, garden beds and planter boxes that were accessble by people with mobility issues. This equipment was manufactured by Qnique Products, a Social Enterprise that engages in vocational carpentry and joinery training for unemployed residents and residents with disabilities.

The horticultural facilities serve as a practical learning area, both as a hands-on training ground for vocational training in horticulture, landscaping and conservation and land management, and for the wider community, as an area for exploring and learning about growing organic foods, growing herbs, establishing and maintaining a cottage garden or growing fruit trees in a harsh climate.

Having the greenhouse also meant WCC could commence the Training and Work Pathway Program – for long-term unemployed jobseekers. Participants were involved in the initial establishment of the center, from building the access path to putting in place the raised garden beds and building in ground ones.

“Community interest in the centre was great from the beginning. Community short courses run at the centre were very popular and received great feedback. Enquiries about further courses are constant.”

Unexpected value for the community at large

Additionally, the Centre proved to be of great value to the community after the Queenstown community garden was forced to close in August 2020. WCC now sees a need to further develop the centre for greater access to the community at large and wants to establish mini-greenhouses and garden beds for local residents with an interest in gardening but no opportunity to do so at their home.

“West Coast Connect wishes to express our thanks for the grant money. Without this funding, the establishment of the horticultural training and discovery centre would not have gone ahead due to financial restraints.”

In 1979, an idea was formed between a bunch of country music loving mates over a few drinks around a campfire in the south west of WA. It became the Country Music Club of Boyup Brook (CMCBB), and before long, they were putting on a show on a regular basis.

Since 1986, the Boyup Brook Country Music Festival has been a major drawcard for this small farming community, attracting more than 10,000 visitors. The CMCBB does a lot more than put musicians on a stage though – there is a strong commitment to upskilling and training it’s volunteers and trainees in all aspects of event planning, including administration, bookkeeping, budgeting, grant writing, event management and office procedures, supporting them to gain financial literacy and job readiness skills. This benefits a core group of 20 volunteers that contribute to pre-planning throughout the year, and 150 during the Festival weekend. The Festival also provides the main fundraising event for more than 36 local community groups that participate during the weekend.

A couple of bad years recently set the club back: in 2017, flooding required the festival to be relocated; and in 2018 the club was hit by a sophisticated ticket scamming operation. On top of all this, the IT equipment available to the group was ageing and unreliable, often freezing unpredictably. Two of the computers were classed as ‘vintage’ by Apple, and the club said they could take a “very long time before they decide to boot up and one makes a noise like crickets are in the building.” This hurdle was adversely affecting the efficiencies and upskilling of the core group volunteers, not to mention the security of ticket sales and smooth running of the festival. But the tough luck the Club had run into had affected their capacity to invest in new equipment.

Daly and Sharon Winter, CMCBB’s President and Music Director, say the Festival helps a small rural community build a vibrant and sustainable community.

“It has wider audience appeal with a multiplier effect for injecting new capital into the local economy, and improves financial well-being within our community. The Festival is a celebration of our country lifestyles and community spirit. The event encourages hundreds of visitors to our state, providing a great boost to our tourism.”

Through the ANZ Seeds of Renewal program, the Club was successful in gaining new equipment. Via the Lenovo stream of the program, the Club was delivered three new Lenovo Thinkpads to support the events future operations, productivity and skill development of the group and volunteers.

The Club also plans to train staff and volunteers to scan, edit, and save photographs and documents to preserve its history as one of the oldest Incorporated Country Music Clubs in Australia and Western Australia.

Some of the volunteers use the equipment throughout the year, and under the guidance of the committee a young employee of the club recently completed her Certificate II and III in Business, plus Event Management modules. In their report, the Club wrote: “Learning new skills through the Club has led past volunteers to new employment options and keeps people living within our rural town and region.”

Nicki Jones, a volunteer, was ecstatic when the new laptops arrived, and with them, she says she achieved much more than she anticipated. 

“Not only were they efficient, user friendly and supported current applications, they had a webcam and sound!  This might initially sound silly, but in the big picture, this allowed me to join webinars and learn new software packages and how to use the computer to better capacity. I found one of the new software packages extremely useful and have now produced several documents with it for the Club. These documents are up to date, professional and easy to read.”

The experience and access to technology, she said, has built her self-esteem and confidence, and she has since been successful in seeking full-time employment, bringing her new skills to her position.

“I cannot thank FRRR and ANZ enough for making life so much easier.”

In 2013, the Mirboo North Community Bank brought the district and surrounds together to identify and prioritise the region’s future recovery and resilience activities following the 2009 Victorian bushfires. From the meeting, what became apparent was the gap in local education and training to support and engage the community in gaining practical skills and knowledge that would increase local capacity.

The Boolarra Community Development Group help promote the social, economic and environmental development of Boolarra and surrounds, taking lead from the community. They work as a liaison between local and state government departments, not-for-profits and community groups to achieve positive outcomes for the region.

They had attended the community meeting in Mirboo and recognised the opportunity to support their region to fill this training and education gap. Reaching out to the Boolarra community they identified a series of courses that would be in demand including event management, safe food handling, chainsaw training, barista training, small motor training, environmental gardening and first aid training courses.

Using a $19,950 grant from FRRR’s Grants for Resilience & Wellness grant program, funded by the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund, the Boolarra Community Development Group ran nine courses over a year. The Development Group works with local community groups to actively encourage members to participate in the training course. They also had a focus on increasing female participation, which was also identified as a community priority during their consultation.

In total, the courses attracted over 90 participants which was well above the expected target and an impressive feat for a small rural community. Each course was met with lots of positive feedback about the content and delivery of the training sessions.

The district is now benefiting from the breadth of skills and abilities available within the community, reducing the need for outsourcing and supporting the vitality of the region. Many participants flagged that they are interested in the potential for more workshops and training courses to run in the future.