Innovative Communities Program Day – Charlton, 4 March

We’ve all seen the big yellow ads in the newspapers. You know the ones ‘Welcoming us to the Ideas Boom’. We have, haven’t we?

You see, the government decided we need to make the country a centre of innovation – where we can turn ideas into successful products and services.

Well, the Loddon Murray Community Leadership Program (LMCLP) has been quietly doing that since its inception in 1998. And it seems, in that time there has been a quiet revolution, or rather a resurgence of action, taking place in small country towns.

One such town is Charlton, where this year’s LMCLP Participants spent the day last Friday exploring the theme of innovative communities, and witnessing it in action.  The first visit was to the Rex Theatre where local stalwart David Pollard outlined the history of the Rex, his love of the theatre, and how the community rallied, and continues to work through issues, to keep the venue alive. Like many in small country towns, Pollard is a ‘doer’ and rolls his sleeves up to get things done. He is also a local councillor and a graduate of the LMCLP.

Local leader Carolyn Olive took the group on a brief tour of the town’s community innovations and spoke with passion about her involvement in, among other things, re-invigorating the Charlton Heritage Museum after the floods of 2011.  It is leaders like Olive who empty out a flooded Museum and store the contents in her backyard shed, until people work out what to do next.  Five years and hundreds of hours of submission writing and Project Management later, sees the town museum a National Award winner and one of the showcase monuments across the Region.

Apart from exemplars of what community leaders can achieve, other workshops during the day outlined the nuts and bolts of how these outcomes come alive.  Ellen White, also a Buloke Shire councillor and LMCLP graduate, outlined some of the finer points of Project Planning and Management, giving insights into where things can sometimes go wrong.  Buloke Shire’s Community Development Officer, Mark Remnant, shared his wisdom and passion about working with people and local communities and showcase the principles behind the useful Transitioning Towns Toolbox.

As Friday’s group strolled through Charlton on their town walk, the repeated commented was along the lines of: “I’ve been through Charlton, but I had no idea……”

So, what is the Loddon Murray Community Leadership Program, and what sorts of impact can it have?

In a nutshell, the Program is a part-time learning opportunity comprising 23 days conducted over 13 themed sessions. The sessions comprise a carefully blended program of tours and visits, workshops, facilitated groups discussions, and presentations by guest speakers.

This year 27 people are enrolled in the program from diverse backgrounds, age-groups and experience from far and wide across the Loddon Murray Region. Think Woodend up to Swan Hill, and Dingee across to Heathcote.  The outcome is to produce community leaders with the skillset to effectively deliver projects and manage organisations that create vibrant communities.

And you have to wonder, in 5 years’ time, how will the class of 2016 have enriched their own local communities?