Rural townships and communities across Victoria are known to thrive on the relationships and connections forged through small-town living, but social distancing measures brought on by COVID-19 have forced changes and adjustments. 

Due to restrictions, rural community members are far less likely to be able to have the casual social interactions which so often becomes a form of information transfer during a simple walk down the street.

Working in partnership online

The Southern Grampians & Glenelg Primary Care Partnership (SGGPCP) has changed the way they operate in order to keep their local communities connected and informed during these times. 

Ebony Jenkins, a project officer at SGGPCP, spoke about the importance of community groups and organisational connections when making the transition to working under COVID-19 restrictions. 

“Because we were engaging and already had good relationships with so many partners and community groups and organisations through our existing work, when COVID-19 hit we just felt that we were really well placed to connect people in that.” 

Communication has become a point of importance within rural districts as people struggle to understand the constantly evolving list of rules and regulations being put forward by federal and state government. 

Ebony said that the SGGPCP’s consistent and coordinated approach with partner organisations in providing these messages to their community using a local context was a vital change they had to make. 

“We felt that there was a real need to bring everyone together and just make sure that people weren’t, I suppose, treading on each other’s toes with this work and sort of duplicating efforts.” 

Adapting new ways to engage young people

Yet restrictions meant that many organisations were postponing or cancelling workshops and community events at a time when people need them most.

With communication and socialising essential for young people’s mental health, Ebony said partners within the SGGPCP understood the need to encourage online communication and community involvement.

The Glenelg Shire Council is one such partner looking to provide a supported online space for young people to maintain social connections using various social networking services such as Zoom, Facebook and Instagram. 

Ebony spoke about the importance of taking advantage of online relations, and the possibilities of having professionals available to drop in and out of online conversations as needed.   

“We kind of wanted to see it a little bit differently. See it as more of an opportunity, I suppose, to bring more people together because there aren’t those barriers of geographic locations.” 

All members of the Southern Grampians and Glenelg district have been encouraged to contribute their ideas and support in spreading clear and concise messages to the community. 

Ebony spoke about how young people were engaged in designing footpath decals that would be placed at strategic areas in various towns and hotspots, with messages promoting social distancing, self-care and physical activity. 

Ebony Jenkins smiles in front of a #GlenelgTogether footpath decal

The introduction of local hashtags (#staysafeglenelg and #glenelgtogether) has been another step in involving and connecting the community. 

“We’ve had really good reports from the community that they can just search one of those hashtags and they know they’ll get a bit of a local update… communities are becoming more trusting of the messages that are coming out because they are so consistent.” 

While keeping people informed of COVID-19 restrictions is of primary importance, SGGPCP partners are also working to keep people of all ages healthy and motivated during lockdown. 

Since the ban on team sports, the YMCA has begun delivering free community virtual fitness classes to encourage people to remain active and keep the spirit of rural and regional sports alive. 

A library exchange has also been created and incorporates the passing on of books, artworks and letters from young people, aimed at maintaining connections for the most vulnerable members of society. 

For rural and regional communities, the ability to stay connected and healthy is vital in order to get through these very unprecedented circumstances.  

The SGGPCP’s ability to adapt their services to COVID-19 has been a group effort, accomplished by the dedication of partner organisations and engagement from the broader community. 

For more SGGPCP campaigns check out these links! 

The Southern Grampians & Glenelg Primary Care Partnership draws on collaborative community partnerships to enhance the health and wellbeing of their community.  

They are working towards the improvement of health equity in vulnerable communities, including a focus on mental health and wellbeing, as well as working towards mitigation and adaptation to climate change.  

Here are some more COVID-19 campaigns: