Beginning in 2018 and with the financial backing of the Fay Fuller Foundation, TACSI partnered with the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute to review the health needs and priorities for South Australia.
The group found that poor mental health is a pressing issue in rural areas with research showing that it is more prevalent than in the metropolitan areas and those suffering are less likely to seek help.
To counter this, TACSI began the Our Town program to “build on the strengths, skills and talents of people in the participating towns to collectively move towards mentally healthy futures”.
The project has been introduced in the Murraylands and on Kangaroo Island and was launched in Ceduna, Cummins and Kimba last year.
The Fay Fuller Foundation is now supporting Our Town projects in Ceduna, Cummins and Kimba with full funding of around $3 million each over 10 years.
The foundation will have control over the flow of the funding, but the town itself will have complete autonomy over how the funds are used.
CEO of the Fay Fuller foundation Niall Fay said that the support alongside the funding is just as important as the money itself.
“Putting money into communities without support is almost setting communities up for failure,” Fay said.
The success of this program has also been observed in Berri where members of the community are working with TACSI and the Fay Fuller Foundation to find ways to improve mental health outcomes.
Following the closure of the Berri Juice Factory in 2009, the town faced both job loss and loss of identity leading to generational trauma within the town, according to Julie Ahrens, the chair of the Berri Our Town team.
“One of the things we discovered was that there is generational trauma in our town around the changes, we use to be known as the orange town, the fruit town, we had the factory, well what are we now?” Ahrens said.
The project is currently in the first of a 10-year plan, with Berri focusing on obtaining community sentiment and making plans for future health and wellbeing developments.
“We looked at wellbeing data, incidences of mental health, poverty, income levels and health determinants, we looked at research, learning from other communities across Australia and we went out and did interviews with members of our community, we then used those three things to tease out and develop insights,” Ahrens said.
From this research, the Our Town project team was able to determine the issues facing the community and look for ways to solve them.
“In Berri, there were four things that we found out in our research,” Aherns said.
“Our community members want to bring generations together, they want to improve the way services work together in the wellbeing space, they want to create a better sense of belonging in our town and they want to learn and listen to our First Nations people to help reconciliation and healing.”
Ahrens said that they have developed a two-step plan with TACSI and the Fay Fuller Foundation to achieve the goals they established through their research and will receive a $50,000 grant and support to find further grants over 10 years.
The first step is a storytelling project where they will work with an artist to find the stories in the community.
“Secondly we are going to have a project working across our schools finding young people who would like to have mentors and then finding other people in the community who would like to be mentors and then bringing people together,” Ahrens said.
“We are about building strong communities, so people don’t end up in the mental health system.”
Fay said the success of the Our Town project is situated firmly on the shoulders of the hard-working people in these regional towns.
“Community is at the heart of this driving this,” Fay said.
“All the successes we’ve had in Our Town has been driven by empowering communities to make a decision as they see best.”
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