By Kath Gannaway
2017 was the year that ‘People Power’ paid off.
In Warburton and in Healesville, community members reaped the benefits of actively railing against the threatened loss of vital services, and came out in force to inspire a better future.
The opening of the ‘new’ Healesville Hospital in February and the opening of the first stage of the AdventCare Aged Care Facility in October came about only through people standing up in numbers and refusing to accept that ‘others’ know better the needs of their own communities.
The Healesville Hospital campaign started with a firey meeting in November 2012 attended by 30 people and quickly gathered momentum to a ground-swell public meeting that saw The Memo Hall packed with more than 280 people just weeks before Christmas.
That meeting resulted in the formation of SHHAG – Save Healesville Hospital Action Group, a voice for the Yarra Valley’s health needs and the backbone of a hard-fought and long campaign.
The group raised $80,000 for a case study and continued to engage the community with more public meetings and unrelenting lobbying across all levels of government to get the new $8.8million facility that was opened on 6 February.
The Yarra Valley would not have the hospital it has today with a new operating theatre, a six-chair dialysis unit, and a range of primary and palliative care services, along with the Yarra Valley Community Health Service without people power.
In Warburton, the road to retaining the much-loved, community-built AdventCare Yarra Ranges aged-care facility was more collaborative, but equally driven by locals who were determined to do whatever was needed to turn around a decision by the Victorian SDA AdventCare Board in August 2016 to close the facility with just a few weeks notice.
Closure seemed inevitable … until the people of Warburton just said ‘no’ and vowed to find a way.
The community rallied and Save Warburton Aged-Care Group (SWAG) set to work to convince AdventCare that as a community they could make it work.
While SWAG chairperson Peta Godenzi urged the group to be positive, she warned AdventCare that the problem would not go away … and as a community, they kept that promise.
They gathered 1800 signatures on a petition, but more importantly presented a business case they believe was viable and garnered a commitment from the Warburton/Yarra Junction Bendigo Community Bank to kick in $100,000 for equipment should the facility stay open.
Before the year was out, AdventCare announced they would redevelop the facility and left no doubt that this was an outcome driven and made possible by local people.
In October 2017 the first stage, 19 fully compliant resident rooms with ensuites, a new lounge and courtyard and a general upgrade was opened – and residents could hardly wait to move in.
By mid-2018 the second stage is expected to be completed taking the facility to more than 40 beds, serving the Upper Yarra and wider Yarra Valley aged community.
While these communities have shown they will ‘man up’ when the things held most dear to them are threatened, it’s rare to have people show up in big numbers to support a new enterprise, as happened with the launch of Healeville CoRE (Community Renewable Energy) in July 2017.
More than 225 turned up at The Memo and voted resoundingly for a renewable energy future.
The meeting followed several months of planning by the CoRE steering group, but the response to what is essentially a project aimed at making Healesville a solar energy-driven town, was overwhelming.
Cr Fiona McAllister described the community response, along with Yarra Glen’s push for solar energy and Warburton’s Hydro project, as “a very determined ground-up push for change with communities taking matters into their own hands.”
A working group formed on the night, the group was incorporated and continues to work to make solar energy affordable and accessible and to promote and educate on a more sustainable energy future.
In a letter to the Mail in the early days of the Healesville Hospital campaign, a resident urged people to continue to support those who had taken on the role of representing the community.
After attending a community meeting she admitted to her ‘shame’ at not playing a more active role.
“I’m ashamed, that I have attended only one SHAGG meeting. I ‘meant’ to go and rationalised my absence (who would miss one lone person?).
“These amazing people are representing us. How can our presence not be important?
“As our representatives they need community input and support.
“We owe them our presence at meetings to validate their efforts, to encourage and reinvigorate them, and to keep up the momentum,” she wrote.
“Their unpaid efforts are for us, and for future generations.”