Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

The devastating impacts of the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires were particularly harsh in the East Gippsland region of Victoria.

To help revive spirits and bring people back to the region, a group of locals came up with the idea of The East Gippsland Winter Festival, an event to be held over the Winter Solstice. It would bring people back to the region during the traditionally quieter period to celebrate and showcase the art, food, culture and nature, as well as help the community heal and recover.

Then COVID hit, making the challenges all the greater. However, the volunteer committee was determined to proceed – just 12 months later than originally planned.

FRRR supported this new Festival with a $25,000 grant. The grant funded a Community Engagement Manager to help connect artists, schools, community groups and individuals with local venues, galleries, businesses and organisations and to provide support to event organisers.

And what an event it was, with 85 local events plus 24 lantern-making workshops held in the lead up to the Festival. In total, it attracted nearly 20,000 people and more than 75 local businesses were involved, ensuring the impact was widespread.

Adam Bloem, Festival Founder and Committee Chair, said they were absolutely blown away by the response!

“It was much bigger and better than we ever expected for a first-year event. While COVID was still a big and stressful challenge, we were very lucky that the festival fell within a four week window of no lockdowns and Melbourne open to travel to regional Victoria!

“The community support and engagement was fantastic. Virtually every town across East Gippsland got involved and organised their own events or installations to be part of the program.

“I think the best thing was the free lantern making workshops. They were very popular and people loved them! They loved coming together and getting creative, making something with their hands and many people commented on the great sense of community that was felt at the workshops.

“The thing I am most proud of is the many comments that I have received from people saying the Winter Festival has helped the region to come together and heal after the devastating Black Summer bushfires,” Mr Bloem said.

Check out some of the amazing photos from the Festival.