by claire-louise vermande
In the aftermath of a natural disaster it’s often not the days or weeks following the event that are the hardest, rather it’s the months and even years after that will likely take the toughest mental toll on the community. Jamie Simmonds, former director of the Strengthening Grantham Project, found this to be the case after the 2011 Queensland floods tore through the Lockyer Valley on January 10. Simmonds, along with former mayor Steve Jones, knew that they had to act quickly to create a vision for the future of Grantham or potentially risk losing the town and it’s community all together. To ensure the survival of the town and it’s people it was imperative that the vision, to move the entire town to higher ground before year end, would be driven by local leaders.
“It’s the months after where potentially people end up sitting around thinking ‘What the hell are we going to do? What future do I have?’” says Simmonds. It is also at this point that local leaders, be that mayors, councillors, business owners, pastors or otherwise, need to stand up for their community and start to execute the vision for their future (read about creating a vision for the future here). If progress stifles at this point there could be dire consequences for the survival of the town, especially in smaller rural areas where it would be easy for residents to up and leave.
Key lessons in leadership from the Strengthening Grantham Project
At a high level, federal and state leadership should acknowledge that following the cleanup effort they will still be there for those communities, standing by their side and offering continued support to assist in rebuilding. In the instance of the recent Australian bushfire crisis, first responders such as the ADF and firefighters have now left, making this a crucial time for state and federal leaders to say ‘we are still there for you.’ At a local level, it is necessary for the next phase of recovery that local leaders emerge and drive home the rebuilding effort.
“If the leadership in these communities says, ‘Well we’ll see how we go,’ or ‘We don’t have a plan for how that’s going to look,’ the only real outcome is it’s going to be a ghost town,” says Simmonds.
“Local leaders have to come together and ask ‘Ok, what is that we want this community to look like? What is our vision to rebuild this community?’” Simmonds explains. Leaders need to recognise they have an opportunity to rebuild their town better than it was before the event, more resilient and with infrastructure they didn’t have previously, as they did in Grantham when they included parklands and sewer systems the town didn’t have prior to the floods. “They need to come to that vision quickly and then make a commitment that this is what they are going to do, and then start doing it,” Simmonds says.
Looking at Grantham today as an outsider it’s hard to see evidence of the disaster that took place almost a decade ago. “It’s just a normal regional town in Queensland,” says Simmonds. “It has its shop, there are kids playing and people mowing lawns and when you talk to the people involved in the relocation they are happy. They’re satisfied that rebuilding on the hill made a huge difference. Had we not done the relocation, and had it not been driven at a local level by local leaders, I guess it’s hard to say, but our fear at the time was that Grantham would become a ghost town and that people would just leave.”