Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

Saddleworth in South Australia is a small rural town with a big heart. With less than 500 people, it’s a tight-knit community where the residents easily walk from one end of town to the next in 20 minutes. 

The town has faced some hardships in recent years, making it difficult for locals to access basic recreational sites that larger towns could enjoy easily. With a high number of low-income families living in the area, most without cars, it has become increasingly important to have an accessible and safe playground in Saddleworth for kids to enjoy.   

For over 77 years, the Saddleworth Lawn Tennis Club has been providing the town with facilities for sporting events and recreational activities. The Club is located on the Saddleworth War Memorial Community Centre, and honours those who lost their lives in World War II. The Club features the only publically accessible playground in the area, providing play and entertainment for nearby families. 

The small playground that was in desperate need of an upgrade, as the equipment was becoming non-compliant, and was at risk of being removed entirely. The playground was also sitting in direct sunlight, making it difficult for kids to enjoy playing on hot days when UV levels were extraordinarily high. 

After losing their local supermarket to a fire in 2016, the community was feeling deflated, having lost a major asset to their town. However, when the Club decided to fundraise the amount needed to improve the playground, over 20 volunteers put their hands up to help out, and six local businesses offered their support. 

The team applied for the FRRR Small Grants for Rural Communities grant, which provided $5,000 for stage one of the playground upgrade. These funds paid for a new shade cover the playground, that will ensure kids can continue to enjoy the area even on sunny days, and not just the early morning or late afternoons as they had become accustom to. 

Stage two of the upgrade encompassed replacing some of the equipment on the playground, including a garden border, softfall and bench for families to enjoy, while they sit under the shade sail. The work was carried out by local volunteers. The community can now enjoy their local playground and the newly refurbished facilities.

With summer well under way, the Club has more Junior Teams attending, with more children looking for some entertainment while their siblings play tennis. The new playground is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, and has created a real impact amongst the community.

The challenge of attracting volunteers to support charitable organisations serving the community is universal, but exacerbated further in remote communities where the potential pool from which to recruit helpers is that much smaller to start with.

This was the challenge NT Friendship & Support Inc (NTSF) faced when they received a grant from FRRR to help them with their volunteer recruitment drive. The group’s mission is to provide professional care and promote an accessible, inclusive and supportive community.

The organisation has a waiting list of vulnerable Katherine region seniors seeking to be paired with a volunteer to assist them, from attending medical appointments and support services, to simply joining them for a cup of tea and a chat. Community members access the service via a referral from a regional assessment team and to be eligible must be 65 year or older, or 45 years or older for Indigenous community members.

Katherine currently has three aged care facilities, all of which are at capacity, with the only other alternative residential aged care facility located 330 km away in Darwin. NTFS has 25 people on the waiting list, five of whom are a high priority for the service. These identified seniors are at risk of isolation and loss of independence. Research suggests that, whenever possible, it is important that people have the opportunity to remain in their communities, connected to country, and independent as long as possible.

NTFS had hoped to recruit and train ten new volunteers, and used the $4,090 grant from FRRR’s Small Grants for Rural Communities program, funded by The Yulgilbar Foundation, to run an advertising campaign to increase their volunteer numbers. Katherine has a transient population which includes the RAAF base at Tindal, and the town relies on families from Tindal to be able to fill vacancies of volunteer positions.

Sadly, the recruitment drive wasn’t nearly as successful as they were hoping, due largely in part to the low turnover of families at Tindal. Of the initial 13 people who registered their interest in volunteering with NTFS, for various reasons, this translated into only two new volunteers.

Part of the grant was supposed to cover the cost of National Police clearance, Ochre Card Cultural training and First Aid certification for up to ten people (the magic number they were hoping to recruit). NTFS found themselves with surplus funds, so after seeking approval for a variation to their grant agreement, they applied the funding to another of their initiatives, the Seniors Community Bus, to ensure Seniors are supported through the COVID-19 crisis.

With no public transport available in Katherine, this service enables the organisation to support Seniors in getting to and from local services and various medical appointments, unhindered by the cost of high fees on taxis when they are available. The bus adheres to social distancing requirements (5 passengers as a maximum in a 14 seater bus), with rigorous hygiene and disinfection control measures in place.

So while the NTFS team and volunteers are stretched to their limits, they continue to provide valuable and necessary services to marginalised and vulnerable members of their community.

Omeo District Health, centred in the remote Victorian Alps, provides primary health care to the communities of Ensay, Swifts Creek, Omeo, Benambra Dinner Plain and surrounding localities. The region’s cloistered location means that both food security and access to local fresh produce can be an issue for some residents and so, as part of the Omeo Region Building Health Food Futures project, Omeo District Health set up the ‘Healthy Harvest’ produce and information exchange.

‘Healthy Harvest’, with the help of a $4,150 Small Grants for Rural Communities grant, would help build the sustainability of the Harvest Exchange meets throughout the year by providing the equipment and resources to display and promote the harvest goods and project materials. It also builds on the strength of the local community who have a lot of knowledge and skills to share when it comes to the growth and establishment of their own gardens and produce.

Portable tables, sandwich board signs, shelter marquees, seed sticks, and ‘Harvest Host’ aprons were some of the items purchased with the grant with 16 events scheduled throughout the year. Harvest Host volunteers and participants from Ensay, Swifts Creek, Omeo and the Benambra communities all benefited from the new resource.

“It is a fabulous way for the members of the community to meet,” said one of the Harvest Exchange Hosts. “It is very social, and as we all like producing things, there are lots of ideas exchanged and information given.”

The Healthy Harvest produce and information exchange resulted in high engagement with a current base of 138 registered participants. A survey administered in June 2018 indicated high satisfaction with the program and overall positive impacts on social connection and mental health, access to fresh produce and variety, information and produce exchange as well as increased motivation for people to grow their own product to eat and share. It also has had a significant impact on people feeling connected to their community.