Making a change in a small regional community faces many challenges. Often there are limited major services, and as a result much community activity relies on volunteers and individual initiatives.
Sherrie Coote has been living in Heathcote for over 6 years and is a member of Advance Heathcote Inc, and is a founder of the Heathcote Region Farmers’ Market. To make this interview happen I had to really persist in making contact with her. Sherrie is incredibly active in her community.
It was really worth the effort to catch Sherrie. Advance Heathcote Inc has established fantastic strategies to engage others to make big things happen in small communities.
As a new resident, Sherrie became interested in how small rural communities have a voice, meet community needs and get projects up and running. Her curiosity led her to find out about community planning requirements in small rural towns within the City of Greater Bendigo. The previous community planning group was exhausted, losing members – thus the Community Plan document sat on the shelf for several years with no active group to steer plans into action.
Sherrie’s first step was to connect with others who were facing similar challenges and attended the 2014 Make a Change Expand Your Impact Workshops. “It was great to get together with other people and share our challenges,” she says.
Advance Heathcote Inc began making a change by putting in place a formalised governance structure to guide and steer the community plan, so that as membership changes, the group remains stable and renewed.
The next big hurdle was how to get the community plan off the paper and activated by engaging others. The community plan is divided into themes, such as environment, health and wellbeing, the arts and culture etc. Using the themes, the group began to “chunk” the plan down so that it wasn’t so overwhelming. Through their networks they approached others to become “Theme Champions”.
A Theme Champion is someone who has skills or passion or networks related to a theme in the community plan. They are the connectors that bring people together to make community plan actions happen.
“Our Environment Champion has made really practical outcomes happen in a short time frame. We have just completed a feasibility study to build a 20 km Heathcote Wine Spur Cycle Trail and are now applying for $1.5m funding. Our Champion was able to bring together people in our community who had an interest in this project and also key organisations outside of our community who make decisions that effect our local environment, roads and national parks,” Sherrie explains. “Theme Champions work because they bring diverse groups of people together and new opportunities evolve to support the implementation of the Community Plan or other community issues.”
Who do you have in your peer network who can be “Theme Champion” to assist you to make a change? The team at Make a Change would love to hear how you are making change happen, post a comment below.
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Image: Sherrie Cootes, Simon Harrison in middle and Tony Juhanson on the right