Stakeholders discuss plans for Bingara’s ‘Living Classroom’

September 8, 2008

Over 50 people assembled at the community stakeholders meeting in the Roxy recently to help develop the framework for the feasibility study brief the Gwydir Shire is commissioning. This study is to consider the feasibility of the multi-facetted "Living Classroom" project. The Living Classroom includes the Primary Industries and Building Education Centre and has the potential to be a major part of improved flood mitigation in the flood prone parts of the south and south west areas of Bingara township.

Chair of the evening, Cr. John Wearne, introduced the guest speakers and outlined the evening’s programme which included an opportunity to participate in group discussions on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to be addressed by this study.

First speaker General Manager, Mr Max Eastcott spoke of the unique features of the proposal. "Like all visions’, said Max, "this started as an idea that has now been refined and has a clear goal."

He went on to explain the unique features of the Living Classroom proposal including its educational focus, the potential generation of local employment, its chance to set Gwydir apart from other communities and its ability to bring together a wide range of stakeholders.

"Strategic partners", Max went on to say, "include the Department of Education and Training, Warialda High and Bingara Central Schools, New England TAFE, the University of New England, Gwydir Learning Region, Gwydir Shire Council, Bingara Community College, Willoughby City Council, Bingara and District Vision 20/20 and other local groups." He also highlighted the fact that all proposed development would be on the "licensed" area south of the Narrabri Road that is not part of the Common.

Mr Rick Hutton as President of Vision 20/20 commented that the initial concept was quite difficult to grasp and that it was important to remember that it is a staged project that will grow over the next 15-20 years. "It is a local project" said Rick, "that considers many of the challenges faced in rural living and agriculture and will provide examples of future options". Rick concluded his talk saying "it is timely to act but it must be feasible and viable for anything to proceed."

A very informative overview of the difficulties a town faces when it is built without regard to flooding was presented by Mr Harry Seccombe, a consulting engineer. He is currently assessing options to reduce the impact of flooding and he indicated at this stage the Living Classroom proposal was likely to assist in this goal.

Local Department of Education Project Officer, Mr Jack Dalby, is currently developing a submission to the Federal government under its Trade Training Centres in Schools Programme which aims to address skills shortages in traditional trades, emerging industries and agriculture/horticulture. Jack explained that up to $1.5 million per school is available but it is essential that there is community support, that the need for these facilities exists and that the schools can prove they are capable of providing this training.

Finally, Mr Rod Smith, Training Development Officer for Gwydir Shire Council enthusiastically explained that Gwydir Shire Council has just appointed the 100th trainee/apprentice as proof that "the Gwydir Learning Region takes some risks and does things differently." He went on to say that forming partnerships with a wide range of providers and considering life long learning as important enabled GLR to add value to training by giving theoretical background enhanced by practical experience. He cited as an example, the building of the amenities block at the Warialda Showgrounds where students get training and the community gets an additional asset.

Everyone who attended then broke into four groups so that people could have their say about the project and look at the fors and againsts. All ideas from the group discussion were presented to the group as a whole and recorded so that they can provide further community input into the feasibility study.

Overall the evening was very positive and constructive and in addition to the group work there were opportunities for people to ask questions, clarify many issues and discuss specific concerns with specific speakers.