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FRRR Breaking Down Barriers

Giving your time for the common good and without expectation of financial gain is something more than half of Australia’s adult population did before COVID-19. Now only 1 in 3 people regularly volunteer. While that statistic sounds dire, the way people volunteer and how their communities connect with them has dramatically changed as well, and this is helping places like Clunes, Victoria reimagine volunteering to rebuild.

“A few years ago, it would have been inconceivable, except perhaps in the pages of a book, to anticipate the rapid changes that we have all gone through since the pandemic,” said Mark Creyton, leading volunteer practitioner and change maker who has worked with more than 15,000 community groups across Australia during his career.

“So, it’s ironic, that I’m now working with community groups in Australia’s only book town to help them write their own way forward, as they look to re-engage volunteers and ultimately become a stronger, collective community.”

Five years ago, Mark Creyton worked with grassroots community groups in Clunes through the Clunes Neighbourhood House to explore how community leadership is fostered through active volunteering.

“Historically Clunes has always had a higher-than-average volunteer rate,” said Lana de Kort, Manager at Clunes Neighbourhood House (and previously the General Manager, state volunteering peak body, Volunteering Queensland for more than 10 years). “There are good reasons for this.”

“Clunes is a beautiful, historic town, but like many country towns we have socio-economic challenges and limited access to public transport. This means that we’ve had to develop a culture of self-determination to gain skills, address needs or just make social connections.”

“Often the easiest and most effective way to do this has been volunteering.”

Yet statistics now show that since COVID hit Australia’s shores, volunteering has faltered and unless communities can reimagine how they involve people in their operations and activities in a world where change is constant and in your face, the pathways and capacity that volunteering once created is at risk. Supported by funding through the Foundation for Rural Regional Renewal, Lana reached out to Mark to see if he could add another dimension to their already existing, Volunteering Local project.

“It’s going back to basics really,” said Mark, “Giving group’s space to focus not on what needs to be done, but on why people might get involved with them in the first place. That means talking about what they stand for and value. How that translates into the way they connect with people who might want to get involved with them as members or volunteers.”

“What I love about this project is that Clunes Neighbourhood House have brought together a seemingly disparate bunch of groups; the Football and Netball Club, the Museum, an arts organisation, industry group and themselves.”

“They are not worried about their differences or competition for resources,” explained Mark, “Instead, they have enough trust in each other that they can openly unpack the challenges they are facing as individual organisations for their own good, and the good of the town.”

“Together I think this project will result in stronger groups, a stronger community in Clunes and perhaps what excites me most,” said Mark, “New mindsets and volunteering practices that will help people belong.”

“Too often volunteering is seen to be about the work that needs doing,” said Lana, “But in reality, successful volunteering experiences are about having a profound connection with your community and shared aspirations.” “That’s where the real power of volunteering lies. Transforming lives in simple or extraordinary ways.”

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