Getting to the heart of a regional community

One of the things I love, and love to learn about about a regional community is what makes it’s heart beat.

Thinking about my many visits to Norfolk Island I have a ritual when I visit that enables me to feel grounded in the community. Because feeling grounded is the only way you can notice mooshy things like love.

I start at the top, Mount Pitt. There I look over the island and I think about the beauty of the island, I think about the people I’m there to serve and I honour the resilience of the people who live in what can at times be very difficult conditions.

I drive my little hire car (waving the Norfolk Wave as I go to passing cars) to Emily bay, I take my shoes off and I feel the course sand between my toes. I look into the bay and I remember the beautiful times I’ve had in this place with both friends and family.

Then after checking in, lots of welcome back hugs I’m already smiling ear to ear I take a walk through the main street of Burnt Pine and I look for what’s new, what’s the same. I feel my way into what will be a busy week of work.

When I started working in Norfolk in 2016 I had no idea what to expect and YouTube clips at the time didn’t help. I’m not exactly sure now what I’d expected however I knew whatever I did would be community led.

When I started my regional leadership role I stated two dangerous things in my initial ABC interview (1) that I would take a fourth sector approach to my work and (2) I was a heart-led consultant. The response (something like WTF) swept those public statements neatly under a strategic plan and I set about looking important whilst carrying on my business as usual.

In 2010 I started asking people “what matters most to you”. I noticed their eyes twinkled as they thought about it. A very different physical response to “tell me about your problems”.

I started using the L word in my practice, albeit very quietly, in fact, just inside my own head soon after when I realised that the best I could ever do in any community is to better enable people to love where they are, and somehow love, or at the very least be kind to one another.

I know, my inner business coach is vomiting right now.

When I visit a community I look for, ask questions about and take time to notice the things that people love in their community. Why? Love in community development and even economic development starts from a place of strength. Love, and the things people love is like an anchor point, something you can come back to, something you can respond to, include and celebrate.

We spend so much time thinking about our problems and how to solve them. Perhaps the biggest problem with our problems is just that – they are problems, our biggest industry.

And what is it that communities love? Through the years I’ve noticed that these things are simple. Communities love their footy, they love quirky statues and historic buildings and nature reserves. They love bingo, cards and coming together. They love their events and festivals and their iconic heroes. Sometimes they love a good debate and often a cold beer.

And why does this matter even more in regional communities? Because the things we love can form a base for cohesion, collaboration, togetherness. Of all things it’s a great starting point.

Think about it for a moment. What do you love and what is loved in your community?

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