Rebuilding After the Fires

Monday 10 August 2020

Recently we launched the Vinnies NSW Bushfire Community Development Program to support communities affected by the devastating ‘Black Summer’ bushfire season.

As part of the program, experienced Vinnies community workers will work in collaboration with locals and other organisations to address gaps from the initial response and help communities recover and rebuild over the long-term.

One of the worst hit areas during the fire season was in and around Kempsey on the NSW Mid North Coast. Copping the brunt of the fires with 46% of the Local Government Area burnt, 67 houses were destroyed while a further 23 were damaged.

As the pilot area for the community development program, Vinnies social worker Sarah Mason is on the ground in the Kempsey LGA to help locals still reeling from the trauma of last November.

What does the Bushfire Community Development Program involve?

The community development program was put in place to look at the longer term resilience and recovery of communities after the bushfires.

I’ve been up in the Kempsey LGA since the fires first went through at the end of November working closely with the local Vinnies Conference to identify the community’s needs, aspirations and what assets they already have so we can build on that as part of the long-term recovery.

When you first came up in November what were some of the immediate needs the community were after?

Housing, food, drinking water, tanks, generators, fencing, connection and safety. There was also a major need for assistance with linking and applying for other Government and Charity funding streams.

Some of these original needs are still being identified every week; we are still coming across people who have slipped through the gaps and haven’t even started the process or don’t know what to do.

There’s a lot of really resilient community members in the Kempsey LGA, but COVID has slowed down the recovery process. We can’t have too many people out at once, so it’s about being flexible and responsive in the space we’re working in.

How have the needs of the community changed over time?

We’ve been providing an outreach service once a week with Kempsey Shire Council, Resilience NSW, NSW HEALTH, RAMHP and Department Of Primary Industries offering financial and material assistance, counselling as well as referrals to other relevant agencies. Our local Conference has partnered with GIVIT, so if someone has a specific need we have the ties in place to help them.

For instance, if someone’s shed burnt down and they lost all their tools, how are they meant to fix their fences? Some of those really basic things – you can give people the financial assistance for replacing their fencing, but they might not have the tools to do it. This is where the financial and material assistance that local Conference members can provide has been vital.

How has Vinnies and the Conference members on the ground helped the local community?

The local Conference has been amazing, we couldn’t have done it without them. We have a small team in Kempsey who have gone above and beyond their normal operating hours and assistance styles to help out. We have even had neighbouring conference members and our regional president who put their hand up to help – some members were travelling two hours each way to come up and support the community.

Even now, nine months later, when I’m doing outreach or working out of the recovery hub, I’m often calling on conferences assistance to help people.

As the community is shifting into the recovery stage, there’s still a lot of sadness and fear in the community; they’re about to start preparing again for the upcoming fires season, so the anxiety levels and mental well-being of community members will be an on-going concern over the long term.

How will the Macleay Valley Recovery Hub work?

With the local recovery hub in Kempsey we’re creating something that is the first of its kind. It brings Vinnies together with Kempsey Shire Council, Resilience NSW, Department of Primary Industries and NSW Health to create a one stop shop for people to come in and discuss their needs.

It means people won’t have to continually tell their story over and over, we can grab the relevant agency right there. We don’t want to re-traumatise people, it’s about helping people access support through as smooth a process as possible.

Hopefully we can replicate similar hubs around the state in areas that were also affected.


The Macleay Valley Recovery Hub is located at 57 Elbow Street, West Kempsey, next to Service NSW. Click here for more information.

Find out more about Vinnies Bushfire Response.