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Help for brigades facing rural decline
There’s been a population boom in Victoria. The 2016 Census shows that more than 6.1 million people now call Victoria home - an increase of more than 15 per cent in just ten years.
But if you travel outside the big cities and larger rural centres such as Bendigo or Horsham, it’s a different story.
In these rural areas, decline is as blatantly evident as growth is closer to the city.
There are many factors driving this change such as farm amalgamations, which means bigger farms with fewer people managing them. Then there’s another side to the story known as the ‘sponge effect’, where some larger towns are growing slightly. This happens when farmers move into town to gain access to better facilities like health, or for younger families to access schooling and sporting facilities for their children. Some farmers then commute to their properties every day.
These changes are the main drivers that have impacted the capacity of many CFA brigades to deliver their services.
“In order for CFA to respond to these changes, we need to more fully understand what the impact looks like and then seek new ways of delivering services in these communities,” said District 20 Operations Manager Peter Taylor.
As the rural decline and retraction challenge is a high priority for CFA in the Mallee, Wimmera and parts of the Loddon-Campaspe areas, CFA North West Region and West Region have come together to face this challenge head-on. Through the recently formed Rural Decline and Retraction Steering Committee, CFA aims to develop more agile service delivery models to meet the needs in declining rural communities.
The Steering Committee consists of volunteers and representatives from four districts and three directorates.
“This cross-regional and cross-directorate approach acknowledges that major challenges can only be addressed by working together,” said West Region Volunteer Sustainability Manager Raelene Williams.
The Steering Committee's first task was to gather information from CFA in the field to ensure the stories told help shape the solutions. Accordingly, two facilitated workshops have been held over the past two months, with the first framing up how the second would be run.
The second workshop was held in Swan Hill on the last weekend of July, with over 30 highly engaged CFA staff and volunteers in attendance. This workshop was the first of its kind for CFA. Participants grabbed the opportunity to share stories and ideas and importantly, raise a range of creative mitigation strategies that would be a benefit brigades and communities into the future.
The final workshop will be held later this year and will focus on engaging external stakeholders. The results and recommendations from all the workshops will be collated into a report, which will be presented to senior CFA decision-makers for consideration and direction. Following that, pilot projects will be kick-started by the Volunteer Sustainability and other teams to test some of the innovations.
This project is made possible through the generous support of Grain Corp and CFA funding. The Grain Corp funding has been made possible because Grain Corp participates in a program that enables farmers who accidentally overload their trucks beyond the legal limit, to donate the value of the small overloaded portion to a charity or cause. The policy helps Graincorp manage its ‘chain of responsibility’ and improves safety outcomes for rural and regional communities across a large area of Victoria.