Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)

In Eden and the wider Far South Coast region of NSW, there has long been a problem with disengaged and disadvantaged youth. Youth unemployment accounts for 25% of all unemployed people in Eden (ABS, 2016). Twelve percent of students in Eden don’t complete year 12, which is double the state average. Young people are unable to get meaningful employment or job-ready skills, and as a result become disengaged. It is a problem that poses a challenge for many communities.

The Eden Game Development Centre in conjunction with the Eden Community Access Centre received a grant for $9,262 through the FRRR ABC Heywire Youth Innovation Grants program. It was to deliver their version of the Heywire Step Up initiative to inspire disengaged young people to take the first step on their journey to success.

William Sharples, who led the development and implementation of the project, drew on his personal experience to inspire and motivate a team of young people to  facilitate the ‘Opportunity Youth Festival’, which was held in Eden in April 2019. Like many others in his community, William had tried to seek meaningful and enjoyable work, but living in a rural town, felt his opportunities were limited.

Discovering a passion for video game development and coding, along with the suport of a few key mentors meant William became more engaged. He has followed his dream and now runs the Eden Game Development Centre, teaching young people tech skills like coding, game development and virtual reality.

As a Heywire Trailblazer alumnus, William jumped at the chance to adopt and adapt the Step Up idea to create a fun event, featuring free food and great entertainment, to attract local young people. To ensure it resonated with local youth, he involved young people in the planning and execution of the day.

With so many people and local organisations putting in efforts to create opportunities for local young people, this was a great chance to showcase the opportunities in a fun and engaging manner to attract young people to investigate options available to them.

The theme of the festival was ‘opportunity’ and there was plenty of that to go around. Around 400 youth came from all over Eden and surrounding areas to spend a day showing off their talents, as well as learning about what the future might hold for them.     

Weeks of planning by the Youth Project Committee resulted in a spectacular day of fun and frivolity, including local youth bands and singers, displays from 35 services and sporting organisations, and plenty more activities.

Feedback was very positive, with participants and services asking if the event was going to be held again in 2020. In acquitting their report, Eden Community Access Centre said they found their greatest success (and challenge!) was letting youth ‘run the show’, with the Steering Committee merely facilitating their ideas and keeping the event safe and within budget.