Northern Rivers leaders give voice to communities on issues and needs

16 leaders committed to championing the needs of the Northern Rivers region recovering from floods and other challenges
It includes ensuring communities are heard on important issues influencing their wellbeing and resilience, and
Supporting existing community groups to share knowledge and resources

The leaders are graduates of the Leading Australian Resilient Communities (LARC) program, in which the Northern Rivers is one of 10 regions targeted for the challenges, especially flooding, endured.
The objective of the program – delivered by the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation (ARLF) and Regional Australia Institute (RAI) – is to bring together current and emerging leaders across the region to further develop their leadership skills and build a network that’s committed to action and outcomes.
It included a combination of place-based multi-day leadership sessions to identify challenges, opportunities and what underpins them using the latest RAI data for the region. As well, coaching and support for practical, community led projects they decided to pursue.

The local leaders presented their community projects at a graduation ceremony last week with a focus on renewal, giving communities a voice that will be listened to, and enabling community groups to share knowledge and support for more impact.
Thomas Dick explains the latter project, called Bottom Up and Ample Bosoms, is about empowering community-led resilience initiatives.

“It’s about fostering connections between a whole range of different organisations on Bundjalung country in the Northern Rivers. There have been community-led initiatives that have sprung up or emerged in response to some of the catastrophic ramifications to climate change,” he said.

Melanie Bloor, and president of one such group called Resilient Uki, adds: “What is happening in the emergent community resilience groups is that they have identified their needs and are endeavouring to work out how to fill those independently of each other. We’re looking at a process that will be able to share that knowledge between groups so that they can support each other. So, fostering leadership exchange. There’ll be a series of workshops to do that and an investigation of how that can be scaled to help other communities both within the Northern Rivers and around Australia.”

The Northern Rivers Community Matters project also sets out to ensure local impact by ensuring community concerns are listened, and responded to. It will be driven by a group of locals, including subject matter experts, who’ll combine their knowledge, skills and networks to support communities on issues impacting them.

“It’s establishing a community engagement framework and looking for solutions or providing pathways for people to help in navigating red tape, navigating the processes that they need to go through, and find that funding potentially to fix an issue,” Nathan Bourne explains.

Meredith Wray adds: “It’s around community issues where the voices aren’t being heard. So that’s why we have a criteria process to determine which issues we think are important.”

With 40 per cent of businesses in Lismore’s CBD remaining unoccupied since the floods, the third group of LARC graduates explored ways to renew the town, referring to the Renew Newcastle model that brought vibrancy back to the regional city. With a broad mix of backgrounds and leadership styles, Claire Sowden explains the group focused on their LARC learnings for guidance.

“I think by very nature, each of us being a leader, we usually have strong opinions about how we run things in our own work groups or our own organisations. And so for us to come together around a sort of a theoretical ideal was a bit tricky in places but because we played authentically and because we continue to turn up and take action, we have actually formed group bonds.”

The outcome being a network of local leaders committed to their communities – the very objective of the LARC program.

“We’ve got non-profits, we’ve got community work, we’ve got small business, people have come from government backgrounds and people who are working in micro businesses as well. So it’s been a networking opportunity and quite a rich one. And so we have thought about this concept of being a group in waiting, you know, this feeling if something else would happen again, we actually have a cohort that we can refer to.”

LARC is delivered as part of the Australian Government’s Building Resilient Regional Leaders Initiative (Pilot) grant. A list of graduate names and titles is attached. Individual head shots are available on request by contacting Nicky McMillan at the ARLF.

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