Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

It’s hard not to smile when entering George Town Neighbourhood House. The community centre is a vibrant place, buzzing with people working to fight structural disadvantages in the area. With a couple of full-time staff and around a dozen loyal volunteers, this Neighbourhood House exists to create a safer and more inclusive and resilient community by supporting disadvantaged people and families.

But maintaining their high level of engagement and attracting new visitors was a challenge for their small team. They needed an extra pair of hands, someone who could help them reach the right people and promote the programs throughout the community. They submitted a brilliant application to the Strengthening Rural Communities program and, thanks to the Sidney Myer Fund, received $10,000 in grants to help cover the wages for their new communications officer.


But then came the next challenge – COVID-19. Suddenly, many of the community-engagement activities they had planned for the new staff member were impossible, or even illegal, to execute. This could have thrown a real spanner in the works for George Town Neighbourhood House… but nay! Instead of crumbling under the new restrictions, they found ways to adapt – and even thrive – in spite of them.


“We had to change how we interacted with the community from the end of March this year … We had to cease all face-to-face contact,” a staff member said. And it worked! They connected with residents online, engaged in collaborations with other organisations and even scored some airtime on the local radio station.


The highlight, the team agreed, was their Online Family Baking project. With Port Dalrymple School donating a big batch of ingredients, the Neighbourhood House could provide a baking-kit for 20 families in the community, complete with video instructions on how to bake delicious chocolate crackles. “We had a very good response and,” they told us. Following the success of this first bake-off, the Neighbourhood House were able to offer a second round of baking for the families who missed out – this time for Anzac biscuits.


In the end, this little community centre managed to positively benefit some 1,500 people with their grant, including the 40 families who participated in the baking project.
“We are very proud with how we were able to adapt, and still engage and extend to our community, in-spite of all the current COVID-19 issues,” a support worker said.

The Circular Head Community has gone through some difficult times recently, with the downsizing and closing of some major employers following floods and bushfires in the area. A street art installation in the main street of Smithton brought the community respite from the empty shopfronts and buildings that were still in need of repair. The community wanted to find a way to encourage artistic expression, bring the community together and encourage visitors to their town, while building on the creative art that already existed. With the incredible talent they have locally, it made sense to put on a three-week celebration of visual, creative and performing arts in what became the ‘Art About Town’ festival. Circular Head Council hoped that the project would not only provide employment opportunities for local artists but would also help to improve community engagement and social cohesion and boost tourism and the local economy. Thanks to a $10,000 grant from FRRR’s ‘Strengthening Rural Communities’ grant program and funded by the Sidney Myer Fund, the community was able to do all that and more.

The Art About Town organisers spoke to local schools, old and young artists, musicians, teachers, students, members of the Circular Head Heritage Centre and Circular Head Aboriginal Corporation to provide a diverse and well-rounded program of events and activities.

As part of the celebration, four original artworks were commissioned from local professional artists. The last one was a whole community art installation, led by a local artist in collaboration with the local school and wider community. Locals could enter portraits into the ‘Chartchibald Prize’ exhibit, which was shown as a local café and had upward of 30 visitors per day. Members of the community were also given the opportunity to have their artworks and photographs displayed in a local shopfront makers space and in a gallery space, with a youth and open age category with prizes available for entries. There was also an arts trail for locals and visitors to enjoy.

The Dolphin Sands Ratepayers Association is a member of Landcare Tasmania, representing the residents and ratepayers of the fragile sand spit bordered by Moulting Lagoon to the north and Nine Mile Beach to the south. Their aim is to help residents be bushfire-ready by removing some of the highly flammable introduced species and replacing with low-flammability natives. 

In April this year, a bushfire destroyed 128 hectares of vegetation in the Dolphin Sands area, leaving the fragile dune system vulnerable to further damage. The community is in a drought declared area, and with the ongoing dry conditions, members of the Association wanted vegetation cleared and mulched well before the next fire season.

Given several of the recent fires in the area, including the April fire, were hazard reduction burns that ‘escaped’, residents were seeking viable alternative to burning green waste, thereby mitigating the risk of burns ‘escaping’.

They worked with the local council and emergency services groups to coordinate a series of working bees throughout Winter to reduce the fuel-load in the 25m ‘defendable zone’ around dwellings and beside driveways.

The Association received a $9,900 Tackling Tough Times Together grant, funded by Westpac Group, to pay for a commercial mulcher and its crew to work through the stacks of vegetation removed during the working bees, and, once mulched, transported it to areas recently affected by fire. 

In total 15 truck loads of mulch (about 150 tonnes) were removed from 56 properties, which are now better prepared for the coming bushfire season.