Much of the rebirth can be attributed to the passion and hard work of local group, Imagine Uraidla (IU), which has been building community spirit since 2014.
Uraidla – home to market gardeners and fruit orchardists – had become a ghost town with local businesses including the hotel shutting their doors.
Resident Ben Hopkins and two other locals from the district saw the lack of activity as potential for greater community connection and a chance to help rebuild business interest.
A town meeting was called and 220 people – almost half the population – showed up.
“Imagine Uraidla was a call to action that engaged people in an inclusive, broad and relevant agenda, and sought to release folks from any sense of having to ask permission to try new things or do things differently,” Ben says.
“IU takes little credit for the lively and bustling main street that greets locals and visitors these days.
“But the street banners and planter boxes did serve to create a new sense of place and sent a message to prospective entrepreneurs that the local community was enthusiastic, willing to support their initiatives and help out where we could.”
Six years on from the first town meeting and Uraidla is revitalised with new and thriving businesses, community events and projects, and a stronger sense of social cohesiveness.
The derelict hotel was bought and renovated by owners who also established the Uraidla Republic Café, Bakery and Brewery next door.
The sleepy town was transformed into a foodie hotspot also home to popular wine and pizza bar Lost in a Forest, the newly renovated Uraidla Pantry, and eclectic café Stall 1195.
The main street became greener and tidier as IU volunteers installed planter boxes and colourful street banners.
Imagine Uraidla has a solid base of 10 committee members who meet regularly to reflect and plan how else the town can flourish.
Imagine Uraidla’s chair Jess De Campo says the group is also a strong communications hub by promoting fellow community groups such as the CFS, along with local events and fundraisers. About 600 residents from the surrounding areas including Basket Range, Summertown, Piccadilly and Carey Gully are signed up to the IU newsletter.
“What has always been nice about IU is that it doesn’t just have a focus on the physical structures and businesses, but it’s about how having a lively main street can help enable a more thriving and connected community,” Jess says.
“I think what IU has shown people is that they are powerful and that their community is a great place to live.”
Last year IU held its second big town hall meeting, where locals set a vision for Uraidla for the next few years. From that sparked four separate community sub-groups including a walking and bike riding tracks and trails group, a sustainability action group, Uraidla Institute revitalisation group and Hills Folk Festival group.
Each group is empowered to bring about change or improve offerings to locals whether it be through music, environmental initiatives or better facilities.
“It’s nice now the community has identified projects they want to work on and there is interest groups formed around these,” Jess says.
“IU is supporting these groups by helping them apply for grants and making connections to government.
“We aren’t driving the action – the community is empowered to chase after the projects that are important to them.”
While the current global pandemic may have slowed down foot traffic along Uraidla’s main street, Jess says such events reinforce the importance of empowered and connected communities.
“I think the events this year from the bushfires to COVID-19 have shown how important community connection is,” she says.
“That’s on what community resilience is founded upon.”
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