The 2019-20 bushfire season was the worst New South Wales has recorded. Over the course of a few months, 26 lives were lost, 2448 homes destroyed and 5.5 million hectares of land burnt.
If I say St Vincent de Paul Society, what do you think of? Vinnes charity shops along main streets? You’d be right, but the organisation is a whole lot more than that. From the start of the 2019-20 bushfires in NSW, St Vincent de Paul Society NSW assisted bushfire-impacted communities with immediate crisis support, and continued to deliver medium-term activities to rebuild and heal communities, with a multi-year community development model.
Earlier this year, NSF Consulting was commissioned to evaluate the St Vincent de Paul Societys NSW’s Bushfires Recovery and Community Development Program. What became evident through that evaluation was the strength and importance of a community development model.
What is a community development model of disaster response?
A community development model of disaster response is one whereby community members are supported by agencies (in this case St Vincent de Paul Society NSW) to identify and take collective action on issues which are important to them. This contrasts to an top-down approach whereby an organisation or government body arrives in town with a standard solution or response, likely with all good intentions, but without taking the care and time to establish what is actually needed in that particular community.
Through our evaluation process, St Vincent de Paul Society NSW demonstrated that adopting a community development approach to disaster recovery proved to be a successful way of supporting diverse regions that had all lived through the same bushfire season, yet all with differing recovery needs.
Successes of St Vincent de Paul Society NSW’s Bushfire Recovery and Community Development Program
St Vincent de Paul Society NSW’s program positively impacted 1632 households throughout six regions in NSW, from Richmond Valley in the north, to Shoalhaven in the south, sensitively tailoring program responses to the differing needs of each community. The program was successful because of the following:
1. The program reflected good practice community development responses and successfully responded to differing needs of six regions throughout NSW;
2. Workers and volunteers across the state were successfully coordinated, with teams working together in their own ways to deliver consistent, overarching state-wide objectives;
3. Communities became skilled in hazard reductions and disaster management in communities through program activities;
4. People were made to feel more connected as a direct result of the program, which was particularly important for communities who had also experienced floods;
5. The aims of the program were continually tweaked in response to what other service providers were delivering in regions, so that services were not duplicated; and
6. St Vincent de Paul had a presence in communities for years, longer than service providers typically stay in a disaster response setting.
Why is this important?
As we approach another hot and dry summer, the threat of bushfires is on the minds of regional communities in NSW. Service providers will be planning disaster response activities across the state. If they can learn from the experiences of St Vincent de Paul Society NSW in their response to the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires, they will plan their programs and responses so that they not only respond to emergency disaster needs when they arise, but also realise the importance of helping to rebuild communities and assist them as they prepare for future natural disasters.
More detail about our evaluation of the St Vincent de Paul NSW Society’s Bushfire and Community Development Program can be found here.
NSF Consulting would like to pay respects to the traditional owners in the six regions in which St Vincent de Paul’s Bushfire and Community Develpment Program was delivered.
Image supplied by St Vincent de Paul Society NSW