The Mt Beauty Neighbourhood Centre (MBNC) project, funded as part of the Upper Murray Regional Neighbourhood House Network Enabling Communities: from the heart of the community project, is a good example of how well neighbourhood houses can work from the ground up, and be that intersectional point between what happens in community and what happens from services. It also demonstrates the importance of the community development approach in effective recovery.
When the Black Summer bushfires hit Corryong, people in Mt Beauty started getting very anxious. There’d been several occasions in previous years when fire had come to the edge of the township so people were really feeling it. When the order came to evacuate, a number of people went to MBNC to ask for advice – should they stay or should they go? Kitty Vigo, the chair of MBNC, remained calm. “People were observing my calm approach and wondering how I managed it,” Kitty told me in a recent interview. “I said – I’m calm because I’ve got a very good fire plan. I’ve thought about it in advance and I’m confident in what I need to do.”
This experience highlighted to Kitty and the MBNC manager, Trish Dixon, that they could help alleviate some of the anxiety people feel in an emergency by helping them develop a good fire plan. This formed the basis of their approach with the Enabling Communities project, and hatched the ironically named “Keep Calm Committee” – more about that shortly.
Stage 1 of their project involved a lot of leg work, engaging with community leaders in various agencies, services, and community groups, including CFA, Red Cross, Alpine Shire, Community Recovery Committee, football, netball and cricket clubs, and Rotary, to talk about what MBNC was doing, what it has the capacity to do, and how they could potentially work together. They also started a community radio program, interviewing various people involved in aspects of recovery. The first interview was with Anne Leadbeater, who talked about the Enabling Communities project and how it will support emerging needs over time.
In February 2021 - just before the lockdowns – they ran a two-day Community Resilience workshop with Red Cross. This included community asset mapping, and a presentation by emergency services and community members. 29 people attended day 1 and 48 day 2 – great community engagement. This resulted in the Upper Kiewa Valley RediCommunities Map (pictured), highlighting important safety points and questions. The Inspector General for Emergency Management (IGEM) had a consultation in Mt Beauty the week after, which 16 people attended – this positive level of participants was noted by the Inspector General and attributed to the connections formed at the workshop the previous week.
MBNC was present at a community market along with Bushfire Recovery Vic and other stakeholders to provide information about disaster preparation, and they produced and distributed a postcard around Mt Beauty with information about preparing and what to expect in a disaster.
During this time the “Keep Calm Committee” emerged as a subcommittee of the MBNC. This committee has supported the development of the community-wide Community Resilience Advisory Group (CRAG). A workshop was facilitated by Anne Leadbeater to progress the development of this group. A key focus was to ensure the work of the group was community-led.
Another planned activity is the development of a core group of volunteers with appropriate training (such as First Aid, chainsaw, working at heights etc) who can help the more vulnerable people in the community prepare their properties before the bushfire season.
One of the outcomes so far from this project is that MBNC is now recognised as part of the recovery process. Kitty is part of a Red Cross working group to develop a Community Resilience Manual, and the IGEM has invited the Keep Calm Committee to be part of a working group to improve community useability of the IGEM documentation.