Small Communities 2017


Birchip was the town showcased for this year’s Loddon Murray Community Leadership Program (LMCLP) ‘Small Communities in Action’ program day.  The 2017 program participants met in Birchip on Friday 12thMay to hear stories about the local initiatives in this small and vibrant town.  Local participants Matthew Bennett (Charlton) and Sarah O’Brien (Donald) were particularly looking forward to this day showcasing a town in their very own local shire.

Rose and Ash Harris, both graduates of the leadership program, welcomed participants to the Birchip Burger Bar for a delicious morning tea and to share their business and community stories.  Rose was heavily involved in the instigation of the Donald Children’s Centre, a project which has been part of her leadership program journey.  She spoke about her passion for sharing local stories, and also opened up to the group about her and Ash’s experiences with the Burger Bar and how unbelievable it had been to have Adam Brand walk through the doors of their establishment and offer a helping hand.   “It was a true story of kindness in leadership, accidental mentorship and how sometimes you have to take an epic leap of faith because you just don’t know what’s on the other side. We all need to learn that it’s OK to put trust in people and to accept their help,” she said.

Participants were then given advice and great hints on planning and managing projects by Fiona Jemmet, projects manager at Community Leadership Loddon Murray Inc (CLLM). This session was timely because many members of the program have already started planning the community based projects which are part of the commitment required of them as part of the leadership program.

A visit to the Birchip P-12 School was next on the agenda and participants were intrigued to hear from staff about the innovative ideas they are utilising to link the students, teachers, parents, and greater community to the school.  Russell Christie spoke of the worth of students completing Student Based Apprenticeships (SBAs) and not everyone being expected to follow the mainstream path of going straight into university.  Andrew Sayle showcased the many different electives that the school offers to support their students all the way from prep to Year 12.

After visiting Birchip Cropping Group’s (BCG) town office and listening to CEO Chris Sounness speak about how BCG supports the grains farming community through their research and development, participants followed Claire Brown, BCG Senior Research Coordinator, to their early sown crop trial site in Curyo. Claire’s passion for agriculture and the Birchip community, and her clear communication was inspiring and thought provoking.

Every program day a few participants share their own stories with the group; last Friday’s stories showed the diversity of the group with the program’s youngest participant Tash Miles from Sebastian sharing about her upbringing on a farm, her studies in outdoor education and her volunteering work with SES, while Marilyn Lozada-Fernandaz from Pyramid Hill and Moustafa Al-Rawi from Bendigo shared their stories of migration, showing sheer strength and perseverance in their journeys to create a beautiful life for themselves and their families in Australia.

Of course, participants did not leave Birchip without sampling Sharp’s Bakery’s award winning Vanilla Slice and being photographed with the ‘Mallee Bull’.   “It was another amazing and jam-packed leadership day,” said Sarah.  “I’m looking forward to our next adventures in Castlemaine exploring ‘healthy communities’, and in the ‘big smoke’ – aka Melbourne in June.”

Written by 2017 Participant, Sarah O’Brien

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