Rebuilding a community

The Bushfire Recovery Grants working group has been recognised with the Vice-Chancellor’s Excellence Award for Excellence in Community Engagement.  

The team was comprised of Director, Research Services, Office of DVC Research, Associate Professor Michael Baker, Research Fellow Dr Alda Balthrop-Lewis, Senior Research Grants Officer Madeleine Barton, Manager, Research Ethics and Integrity Sebastian Gimenez, Senior Research Grants Officer Martin Kelly, Senior Research Grants Officer Wendy Ng, Associate Research Fellow Dr Anh Nguyen Austen, Deputy Head, School of Behavioural and Health Sciences NSW/North Sydney Dr Jennifer Taylor, Research Executive Advisor Dr Julie Thorpe, David Tran, Legal Counsel Heidi Wolfenden and Professor Alexander Yeung.

They received the award in recognition of their work to develop several successful funding applications, totalling over $10 million, to enable Cobargo community organisations to support their community to ‘build back better’.

A call to action

In late 2020 ACU received an urgent request for support from the Australian Business Volunteers (ABV), a team of several hundred skilled business professionals who work in partnership with corporations to deliver impactful corporate social responsibility programs.

ABV were working with residents of Cobargo, one of the towns affected by recent bushfires on the south coast of NSW, who were trying to ‘build back better’. The catastrophic fires on New Year’s Eve 2019 decimated the town centre and the village community had been traumatised

The community came together, with the support of corporate volunteers, to undertake a consultation process and determine priority projects, with the aim of submitting funding applications to the government’s Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund.

The community’s aim was to not just recover, but to begin to thrive as they rebuilt from the devastation. The intention was that successful projects would replace infrastructure for facilities and services to serve the community for years to come.

While the community came with great ideas, detailed plans for implementation, a team of community members and corporate partners and met the requirements needed to qualify for funding under grant conditions, what they desperately needed was assistance with writing the grant applications – and the deadline for grant applications was only three weeks away.

Rising to the challenge

Although it was the end of the year and people would ordinarily be winding down, multiple ACU staff stepped up to contribute.

In a very short period of time, the team managed to meet with the necessary community representatives to gather the details of their project proposal, draft the persuasive text sections of grant applications, review the selection criteria and navigate the complex nature of the competitive funding process.

“People who aren’t affected by the bushfires still care very deeply,” Madeleine said.

“We recognised the unique opportunity to use our skill set in a way that reaches the community a bit more directly than what we’re usually used to doing.”

Building back better

Michael said the group’s work with, and in service of, the Cobargo community was the embodiment of acting in truth and love in order to support the dignity of the human person and the common good.

“We all felt immense pride at being able to deploy our skills in a way that has a direct and tangible benefit for the community, particularly a community with such a clear need for support,” he said.

The outcomes for the community were substantial. Three of the four Cobargo community projects that applied for funding under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) Fund were successful.

These include:

  • rebuilding Cobargo Main Street – East and West developments
  • establishing the Cobargo Bushfire Resilience Centre
  • rebuilding Cobargo Preschool

One member of the team, Madeleine Barton, has gone on to provide additional support to the community through further grant applications resulting in another funding success in subsequent grant rounds.

Looking to the future, the working group wants to further help members of the Cobargo community to establish partnerships with ACU researchers to lead programs such as those involving sharing Indigenous knowledges of fire resilience.

A note of thanks

“The Cobargo community and ABV greatly appreciates the support of the staff and students of ACU, whose time and dedication to walk alongside a range of community organisations has helped to strengthen these organisations and build community resilience. Our sincere thanks again to ACU for the wonderful volunteer support to the Cobargo community. It has been invaluable and much appreciated.” Jessie Fisher, Program Director Australian Business Volunteers.

Associate Professor Michael Baker and Dr Anh Nguyen Austen with Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Zlatko Skrbis

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