“Vital Signs provides an opportunity for your community to see what’s really going on, what’s working and what’s not working. It breaks it down into specific issues”
— Ian Bird, President of Community Foundations of Canada, National Community Foundations Forums in Melbourne, 2017.
Hearing Ian explain the value of a Vital Signs Report, which has been widely used by communities in Canada and parts of Australia, the Mirboo North and District Community Foundation (the Community Foundation or MNDCF) realised that this framework would enable their vision of strongly working together with the community to meet their challenges and celebrate their successes.
“We are in the incredibly fortunate position to be able to build on the hard work of generations of people in this area who have left this incredible legacy in our community’s hands”, says Ruth Rogan, current CEO of the Community Foundation. She explains that the resilience and fundraising efforts of the community, which kept the Mirboo North bush nursing hospital and aged care facility in operation for over 70 years, led to the sale of the aged care facility into private ownership in 2008, releasing $5 million that the community decided to incorporate into a community fund model.
“As a perpetual fund, the earnings of the Community Foundation are distributed into the community each year, with $1.3 million going back into our community in the last nine years. But in order to take our impact to the next level, we not only needed to capture more local data so we could continue to identify the challenges for the community, but we wanted to interact with the community on how to address those. We decided to create our very own Vital Signs Report”, Ruth added.
The next step was to discuss this idea with another strong community organisation that also distributes funds to the local community, the Mirboo North & District Community Bank (the MND Community Bank).
“The Mirboo North and District Community Bank were very excited to work with the Community Foundation on this. Even though we are similar organisations in the parallel way we provide grants, this has been a great opportunity to directly work together for the sole benefit of the community”, said Marg Lynn, Director of the MND Community Bank.
With the MND Community Bank signed up as a joint partner, the next step was to bring together a core Vital Signs committee. This group includes representatives from the Community Foundation and the Community Bank, as well as a statistician and members to represent the communities in the district, including Yinnar, Boolarra, Thorpdale and Mirboo North. It was then that the Mirboo North & District’s Vital Signs project was ready to get underway.
“The Vital Signs Report aims to take the pulse of the local community, identifying trends and needs by verifying publicly available data combined with local knowledge and people’s lived experiences”, said Kate Buxton, Project Manager of Mirboo North & District’s Vital Signs, emphasising that the report aims to incorporate local stories and produce an understandable and meaningful document that can be ‘read on the bus’ by anyone.
“The Vital Sign Committee meets monthly, initially to choose the themes to concentrate on and now to dig into the gathered data and provide ongoing local feedback for the report”, said Kate. A broad range of local issues are being discussed, from domestic violence, local water supply, innovation in agriculture, access to mental health services and school leavers’ access to tertiary education, to the small business economy and even volunteering.
Mirboo North & District’s Vital Signs report will be unique, in that it will be the first of its kind in rural Australia, with a much smaller geographic coverage than previous Vital Signs reports in this country. “The extra special challenge for us is finding the best data available on such a local level, but because this report combines the data with local expertise and knowledge, it can be achieved even with small population sizes”, added Kate.
One of the highlights of the report is the ‘Village of 100’, where local demographics are broken down visually to help demonstrate the makeup of the community and the importance of community issues on a simple scale. Some of these graphics have already been released on MNDCF Vitals Signs social media accounts so locals can begin conversations and become more aware of the creation of the report.
The team admits that they are learning as they go. “Our next step is to take the time to sit down and share this data with local community members at a series of forums that we are about to host around our district”, said Marg.
“Together we will talk to locals about the elected themes of Environment, Health, Education, the Economy and Belonging, sharing what we have learnt so far. We hope that we get back lots of local viewpoints, telling us how they see this information play out in their communities”, continued Kate.
Ruth said that it has been surprising to see the data about the high levels of obesity and the challenge of accessing mental health services. On the other hand, the high levels of volunteering were not a surprise to her, “This is a town which believes it has more community organisations per capita than any other town across Victoria!”
While the tangible outcome is the report that is accessible to all, it’s hoped that this is just the first step towards opening a conversation with local people on what is going on in their communities, so that they can look towards the future as one.
“We really want to continue the conversation once this report is released and begin to work together towards what we can do about the challenges, while also highlighting the positives in our community and identifying what we do well”, continued Ruth.
“We want to better target our resources to meet a need, seize the opportunity and facilitate change.
“The first stage of this report is to provide an engaging gateway; we’re sure the report will be a flexible tool that we can then build upon together as a community”, finishes Marg.
The Vital Signs Forums will take place in 2019 in Thorpdale on May 26, Yinnar on June 2, Mirboo North on June 16 and Boolarra on June 23.
You can find out more about the Mirboo North and District Community Foundation at www.mirboodistrictfoundation.org.au.
The report is planned to be released in the second half of 2019; you can follow its progress on www.facebook.com/mirboonorthdistrictsvitalsigns, once published it will be available to read online.
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Vital Signs Team (L-R): Kate Buxton, Marg Lynn, Viv Williams, Anne Marie Dieperink & Ruth Rogan.