By Ron Maxwell - CEO
Long before this year's disastrous bushfire season, many of Australia's regional communities were already doing it tough, feeling the full impact of the drought. The recent bushfire crisis has really highlighted the need to help our regional communities, and there are many ways we can do this, from government responses to our own individual actions.
VERTO operates in regional communities across New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, many of whom are facing uphill battles, with drought and bushfires having a raft of emotional, economic, and social impacts. Having lived and worked in Central West NSW, this is a topic close to my heart. Many people I know, some of them VERTO team members and clients, are contributing all of their income to keeping cattle alive and family-run farms afloat in the face of dire water shortages.
We can't bring the rain to these drought-stricken communities or undo the devastation wrought by fires, but we can all play a part in boosting local economies and helping communities to continue to fight.
Government grants can have a wide-ranging impact
When handled correctly, regional grants can change the fortunes of a community. The impacts can go so much further than just the immediate project. Take, for example, a community that receives a grant to build a clubhouse at a local sporting venue. The initial build creates a number of local jobs and work opportunities, from architects to builders. This gives local businesses a boost and can help locals to develop new skills.
Once finished, the clubhouse can create opportunities in hospitality, hiring the space out, running a cafe, or simply encouraging more visitors from outside the community to come to sporting events and spend money. The flow-on can create jobs in tourism, hospitality, and events, to name just a few. It's about so much more than just the clubhouse building itself.
It must be about quality, not quantity
In order to have maximum impact, government grants must reach the right people and the right projects. In recent years, it has sometimes seemed to me to be more about quantity than quality – often inadequately funding a huge number of projects, instead of fully-funding a few critical ones and supporting them through to completion to realise the community benefits.
Helping a community to kick off an event or festival, for example, can be resource intensive, but a successful event can transform a community. A recurring event can have so many positive impacts, creating jobs, bringing in tourist dollars, and uniting the community with a shared sense of identity and values.
Individual initiatives have a big part to play
Government grants take time to issue and often get caught up in bureaucratic process, but we need to get behind regional Australia now. Individual initiatives, like Buy from the Bush and Empty Esky, are something we should all be getting behind.
These initiatives are all about getting out and visiting our regional communities, trying local produce, and supporting local growers, producers, and artists. It can make a real difference. As Buy from the Bush founder, Grace Brennan, said in her Australia Day address, it's not about charity, it's about investment.
Diverse regions with so much to offer
The best part about these grassroots campaigns is that they are not just about parting with your hard-earned money, they're about buying amazing experiences. While "regional Australia" is often talked about as a singular entity, the reality is that it is diverse, made up of tens of thousands of small towns, each with their own distinct culture, voices, produce, and environment.
Visit almost any town in regional Australia, and you will find a local restaurant or café that is serving the best of local produce, fresh off the farm, and likely half the price of an equivalent experience in a capital city.
While we wait for government responses to make it through the bureaucratic process, get in your car or on the train, and explore our great regions. You'll have some amazing experiences, help to rebuild communities, and create employment opportunities by supporting local farmers and businesses. It's a win/win.