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Combating rural decline
Rural decline and retraction is a major concern for many of our CFA communities across rural Victoria.
By Michelle Cannon
One of the major issues faced by these communities is the increasing reliance on volunteers to support essential community services.
As an organisation supported by a large number of volunteers, we’re aware that further decline, coupled with ageing populations in rural areas, presents a challenge to the current service delivery model.
Rural decline has the potential to reduce the viability and effectiveness of rural brigades.
At the end of October, Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development Jaala Pulford opened a stakeholder workshop at Bungaree with a focus on collaboration between organisations to tackle the problems associated with this decline.
The workshop was the second in a series of consultation activities being done by the recently-formed steering committee established to look at the impact of rural decline on CFA brigades. The committee has staff and volunteers from North West and West regions, with a focus on the Wimmera and Mallee areas.
District 20 Operations Manager Peter Taylor leads the way as the chair of the steering committee and brings extensive experience working in rural areas.
“I’m determined to see a strong organisational focus on actions to ensure our volunteer brigades are viable into the future,” Peter said.
“At the conclusion of these activities we expect to see organisational change where our CFA volunteers are the drivers behind creating a fire service that’s responsive to the individual needs of their own communities.
“This has to be a top priority not only for CFA but all other stakeholders.”
The October workshop included representatives from Victoria Police, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, Department of Health, Department of Education and Training, Victorian Farmers Federation, local councils, SES, Regional Partnerships, RMIT, Birchip Cropping Group, EMV and CFA.
Participants shared their organisations’ experiences in the rural sector and explored opportunities to work together to implement significant change.
Regional Manager for Volunteer Sustainability in West Region Raelene Williams highlighted the importance of working across agencies both within emergency services and externally.
“In rural areas, our volunteers wear many hats in the community. It makes sense that we look at working closely with other organisations that have the same priorities in supporting community resilience in areas facing rural decline,” Raelene said.
“Collaboration is definitely the key to build and create resilient communities, which in turn will support ongoing brigade viability and social inclusion for our volunteers.”
Further highlighting the importance of collaboration, Blythe McLennan, a Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC researcher with RMIT, said of the stakeholder workshop, “It was a great day all round and I’m excited to see what comes out of it with the framework for CFA.
“We are in a better position now to more thoughtfully consider rural decline and retraction in our research on volunteering.”
In late July, the first CFA workshop was held in Swan Hill, where a diverse range of staff and volunteers considered how CFA can better support our volunteers in areas impacted by rural decline. More than 30 participants provided great insight into the pressures affecting our volunteers, as well as ideas to consider as we look to address the issues.
Following these consultation activities, an action plan will be developed. This will include the development of pilot projects in CFA and more broadly across organisations in targeted communities.
We acknowledge and thank GrainCorp for a donation that was used to run these workshops.
Photo by Claire Flanagan Smith