Heyfield named Australia’s strongest community

The Commercial Hotel in Heyfield

The small Gippsland town of Heyfield, 200 km east of Melbourne, has been named Australia’s ‘Strongest and Most Resilient Community’.

The award was given as part of the 2017 national Power to the People Conference, organised by the the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) and the Bank of I.D.E.A.S.

“The Heyfield community in the Wellington Shire received the accolade for their innovation and dedication to improving the lives of locals,” said Mary Lalios, MAV President, and former mayor of the City of Whittlesea.

“The inaugural run of this award emerged with 60 nominations, assessed against eight criteria for building and maintaining strength and resilience.”

The Bank of I.D.E.A.S. is an international community and economic development consultancy based in Kalamunda, Western Australia. (I.D.E.A.S. stands for Initiatives for the Developments of Enterprising Actions and Strategies).

Since its creation in 1989, it has worked with over 1,600 communities throughout Australia and overseas seeking to facilitate fresh and creative ways that stimulate community and local economic renewal.

Heyfield is an agricultural service centre and timber town with a population of 2,000 people. It is in the Shire of Wellington. Cr Lalios said it won the award based on its high level of community involvement.

“On any given day, there are volunteers donating time and effort to support various communities and interests – such as assisting senior citizens, protecting cultural landmarks such as war memorials and museums, as well as supporting environmental conservancy efforts, sporting groups and the Men’s Shed.”

She said that the award seeks to recognise the direct efforts of councils that have actively supported and engaged with their community.

“We want to encourage independent, self-governing communities that have a culture of enabling rather than just supporting people in need.

“Communities are enhanced through active and caring citizens, and empowered when they move from a model of dependency towards one with greater collaboration and strong social capital.

“Local government can play a big role in nurturing community efforts, while rolling-out plans that are well-developed to sustain current and future needs,” she said

The award citation mentioned In addition to building and enhancing their community, Heyfield residents have also been proactive in fundraising efforts and have managed to drive major development projects without the need for shire funding.

A major project is the Heyfield Wetlands, where hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of in-kind dollars have transformed it into a haven for wildlife, and a place for environmental education and recreation.

“We commend the Heyfield residents for this incredible effort and achievement,” said Cr Lalios. “Their resilience and initiative has driven many community projects including securing the future of aged care, a nursing home with 60 beds, a town paramedic and ambulance, upgrading the skate park, the wetlands, swimming pool and community garden to name a few.

“Lifelong learning is also a key focus. There are many resources for skills development available at all levels; from numerous sporting clubs, a local Neighbourhood House and volunteer organisations that willingly welcome and train new members,” she said.

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