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Reach out

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

It's strange how new usages become common parlance. A couple of weeks ago, a guy I'd worked for in government sent me an email saying he had the impulse to 'reach out' to me. Then I started to find 'reach out' in all kinds of places. We no longer get in touch - we reach out.

Reaching out has been our theme here at CLEA for a while - different ways of reaching out, to get our story out to others, to open a door for them to join in Landcare if they choose. And we need to open more doors - our share of total volunteering is in steady decline. People aren't as interested in environmental volunteering as being in the CFA, or visiting the elderly, or supporting refugees.

In my private capacity as a member of Riddells Creek Landcare, I have been experimenting with different ways of connecting to the members of our growing community. Riddell is, remarkably, 50 minutes by Vline to the CBD, so we are home to a growing band of office workers, and being close to the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne, we have tradies settling here to live off Melbourne's never-ending growth. Add to this the work-from-home, would-retire-if-we-could-afford-it folk, and it's a diverse mix of people.

We have three lines of communication to the wider community. I've no way of telling at this point which is effective, but it feels like they are all needed, just in case someone is listening and waiting for our call to action.

1. The Stall at the Monthly Farmers' Market: Notes for December, 2016.

"We had a trickle of people past our little tent, and gave away plants and had conversations about weeds. I signed up one person as a member, and met a couple of members of our neighbour group, Clarkefield and District Landcare, who have a lovely piece of Jacksons Creek they want to fence off. We discussed options. I gave them the phone number of the Stream Frontage consultant, so they could see if Melbourne Water could do anything for them. Between those of us on the stall and other Landcare members who came past, there was a rolling conversation around our respective running battles with bureaucracies. George has had a run-in with the local CFA command for running a session to prepare for the fire season, at his own initiative, with his neighbours. A command-and-control culture the CFA is suspicious of action initiated from the bottom. Lyn is recovering from the mauling the advocacy group Getting Riddell Right was given at VCAT by the barrister for the supermarket developer."

These are stories from the frontline, the fault line between community and government. By sharing what's happening, we long-term Landcare members keep up-to-date with each other and we feel our comradeship in working to make the world a better place. Of course, by being at the Farmers Market every month, we are making connections, knitting community together. Occasionally, some information about weeds or native species is exchanged, but mostly, the Landcare stall is about people connecting to people.

2. The Noticeboards of Riddell

Post Office Noticeboard Riddells Creek 3431

We email members about events, but the noticeboard at the postal agency, outside the supermarket and at the railway station are obvious points to the way to go beyond our current membership. As I browse for that clothes rack I need, maybe my eye will light upon an interesting event.

But these are highly competitive sites - finding a place for a flyer can be hard work, and designing something that catches people's eye takes skill. How do you give a complex message in just a short paragraph?

3. Riddell Round Up

Riddell Round Up is our monthly community newsletter, printed at the Primary School, black and white, 40 pages. Everyone reads it.

By dint of patience and persistence, I now share the first real page of community news (after various bits of Council and local member business) with Melanie's 'This Month in My Garden' column. When I moved to Riddell 8 years ago, Melanie's column was my go-to read each month, so I'm chuffed to share the page with her.

The Landcare column takes up current issues around town, wider environmental and social challenges, the life of being a volunteer and the challenges of working with government. I like writing, and I like writing this column. It gives me space to reflect on the work we're doing in Landcare, and how my own thinking and attitudes are evolving. My members give me free rein, provided I mention Landcare and up-coming events, and knowing that I may meet my readers on the street gives the task immediacy. I do get a fair bit of feedback, positive mostly, sometimes negative. The column certainly gives Landcare a presence in the community.

The column gets posted to our blog 'Nuts About Nature', with the same piece of writing working harder with the help of pictures around each story. Try 'In the company of others', or 'Suburban Riddles'.

We can sustain our reaching out effort because we like doing each of these activities. If you don't like doing it, you won't keep doing it, and quite a lot of communication works through persistence and repetition. People hear things through several different channels before they believe them. Our enjoyment of being at the market stall or enjoying the challenge of designing a poster that grabs attention on a crowded noticeboard, means we keep going.

I would like a bit of help: I'd like to move our website to a sexier platform than google sites. I'd like to learn how to run mailchip lists. Most of all, I'd like to a segmentation study of the motivations of the kind of people who make up a peri-urban town like ours, and some examples of ways to frame the Landcare message to connect to these motivations. A bit of communications science. PPWCMA did a study maybe five years ago, but since their Landcare Coordinator Doug Evans left, it is lost in the mists of time.

In the meantime, there's the market tomorrow, and next month's Riddell Round Up column to finish.

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