Rural community connections: lockdown and wellbeing

The Clubs Taking Control LDAT, supported by Sports Focus, found news ways of working during a global pandemic to build a stronger and more connected community in the rural town of Heathcote, Victoria.

The Heathcote Wellbeing and Connection project team worked with existing community organisations to establish and train a Wellbeing Team, as well as a directory of services called Heathcote Connect.

Despite the country going into lockdown in March 2020, the Clubs Taking Control LDAT lived up to their name.

They adapted to their ‘new normal’ to continue with their Community Action Plan, showing incredible resilience and determination during tough times.

“We have all used our strengths to ensure we’re supporting and engaging with the Heathcote community members throughout the duration of the project, and it has been a positive experience for us all,” said LDAT lead and Sports Focus project coordinator Tamarra Ferguson.

“We all look forward to seeing the work we achieved, as well as future work, benefit Heathcote now and into the future.”

The path to connectedness

After extensive community consultation within Heathcote, it was clear community groups needed support to create a more welcoming and inclusive culture.

Creating this culture would be achieved through a Wellbeing Team. Members would be trained to support people through alcohol and other drug issues as well as mental health concerns.

The community groups also needed help in promoting themselves to the community so that people were aware of the services available to them and use them to assist with their wellbeing.

These groups and services would be pulled together into the Heathcote Connect directory, a useful hub promoting these existing community groups to people looking for support, advice and information around alcohol and other drugs and mental health.

Unexpected obstacles of COVID-19

Within two months of going into lockdown, the LDAT was reconnecting with organisations and coming across surprising challenges.

One of the toughest challenges was the end of face-to-face meetings - a struggle many people can relate to.

With in-person training for the Wellbeing Team members off the table, the LDAT was forced to revisit how to equip Wellbeing Team members with the skills to support those going through a tough time.

Virtual chats with existing community organisations helped to understand how the community was feeling during lockdowns but didn’t give a meaningful insight into which organisations would be a good fit for the Heathcote Connect directory.

Moving forward, no matter what

The LDAT engaged with Elite Counselling and Consulting who provided online training workshops for 17 community members covering active listening, asking the right questions, empathetic communication and more.

Bendigo Community Health Services, as an LDAT partner, offered alcohol and other drug training through their Drug Safety Officers for future team members.

This has resulted in re-establishing a mental health and alcohol and other drug worker who is available once a week in the Heathcote community.

Wellbeing Team members who have completed their training feel ready to have difficult conversations with someone in need of support, making the investment in training worthwhile.

There’s still work to be done on the Heathcote Connect directory but with the eventual easing of lockdowns and more in-person consultations, there’s no doubt this vision will come to life.

Tamarra said it was a true team effort among Sports Focus, Heathcote Community House, Bendigo Community Health and Heathcote Health to achieve great outcomes during a challenging time.

The LDAT partners involved are Heathcote Community House, Heathcote Health and Bendigo Community Health Service.

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