April 11th, 2021Creating BOOM in Clunes to avoid a bust
But when those hard times hit, and never as hard as we witnessed during the COVID pandemic, paving a way forward is now the challenge faced by all rural communities.
When Clunes Neighbourhood House manager Lana de Kort, pictured, realised the COVID crisis would impact severely on her local community and the vital services provided by the centre, she not only ensured basic services and support would still be provided during the lockdown phases, but she and her committee also took the opportunity to accelerate their plans for the future of the town.
And plan she did, with her team of volunteers and board members working tirelessly to implement BOOM – a community action program that aims to boost the town’s economic status and provide a secure environment for its residents.
Lana said that working with local and visiting thinkers, Clunes Neighbourhood House identified that the creation of a space where community and business could work alongside each other to help nurture solid business behaviours and a healthy community – an ideal way of supporting a boom culture.
“BOOM Clunes is a social enterprise with two objectives: one is to make money so we can all explore how new thinking and diversity can be financially viable in a small economy and the other is to help incubate others’ thinking so they can do the same in their business,” she said.
“Even in good times, small towns can be vulnerable to the usual boom and bust cycles that tend to hit economies. Clunes is a community that typically punches above its weight. You can look back generations and see the careful progress that has been made to make Clunes as resilient as possible – from infrastructure decisions, to the preservation of our history and becoming a Booktown,” she said.
“Nearly two years ago we came to the conclusion that to break out of a bust, or even head one off at the pass, small towns have to think – and act – differently.
“At that time, COVID-19 wasn’t even something we could imagine, let alone plan for. But in some ways the pandemic has caused such a seismic disruption that it has accelerated our town’s need to take action.”
Lana, a professional writer and former corporate manager, moved to Clunes with her husband and two boys a few years ago. Her role at the Clunes Neighbourhood House combines years of corporate experience with hands-on practical program implementation which has seen the Clunes Neighbourhood House thrive.
“Clunes Neighbourhood House has long been interested in the role that community can play in tipping the scales towards a boom. Particularly a boom where the balance of focus encompasses all three markers of a strong and resilient system – community, economy and environment,” she said.
“Working with local people, businesses and other community groups, our goal is to contribute to the liveability of Clunes by supporting everyone to be an active part of the neighbourhood.”
In an average week, the centre has a team of 40. Lana believes the economic value of volunteer contributions each year is more than $600,000. BOOM Clunes is located in the old State Bank in Fraser Street and includes the shop, the business and employability centre, accommodation and an art studio and nursery in the garden.
“Using lockdown wisely and clocking up more than a few Zoom hours we explored how our vision could be realised and last. BOOM Clunes was launched last month with the group opening a shop delivering on the Clunes brand.
“We offer books – new and old, touches of gold with jewellery, collectibles and giftware. Even walking maps made by the community so visitors can get to know the town while the funds raised go straight back into the community.”
The next phase of BOOM will see the business employability centre open upstairs and will offer serviced offices and membership to a co-working space.
“We hope to encourage sole traders, businesses and those working from home to come and get a little bit of that ‘water cooler’ stimulation you miss when you don’t work in a big business or onsite. In the last census Hepburn Shire was identified as an entrepreneurship hotspot. We anticipate that many of these creatives, sole traders and business people will appreciate having a space within their shire where they can mix with others, get their work done and access basic facilities.”
But while a hive of activity is happening at the Clunes Neighbourhood House and BOOM Clunes, local residents will continue to enjoy the amazing services, free food initiative, delivered nightly meals once a week and a host of other programs and services that underpin the small but community-spirited and supportive township of Clunes.
Words: Narelle Groenhout | Image: Supplied