The accommodation was booked, flights ticketed and the TACSI, Fay Fuller and Clear Horizon teams and 6 towns were set to meet up together for the first time for an ‘Our Town’ retreat on beautiful Kangaroo Island mid March. What happened next needs no explaining.
In what was to become a familiar line of communications over the next 24 hours the entire cohort of twenty plus attendees would be told to unpack their bags, change plans and get ready to connect online for the proposed three-day retreat due to start the very next day.
Surprisingly everyone took the extreme shift in plans all in their collective stride, and so began preparations to build an online experience for 6 participating regional towns in South Australia, encompassing 2 days of meet and greets, content and connections and workshops, all within a mere 12 hours.
As a milestone, the retreat was to be the kick off point for all 6 of the recipients of funding from Fay Fuller Foundation to begin to build out what the ‘Our Town’ mental health initiative could look like for their region, and for the supporting teams what the towns were looking for in terms of support. Representatives from Berri, Ceduna, Cummins, Kangaroo Island, Kimba and the Mid Murray region were joined by partners TACSI, Fay Fuller Foundation, Clear Horizon and a host of experts who shifted their in-person training session to become online workshops and experiences.
With mental health and safety at the forefront coupled with the ever-shifting landscape, the retreat became one of shared experiences and connection during the initial days of Covid 19 media attention.
Safe spaces were created and an online agenda made sure that room was made for break out spaces and reflections during the retreat. Nonetheless there was a lot to go through, and over two intensive days the town representative and partners were guided through a series of workshop activities and discussions including capacity building, building teams online, measuring data and core and connected team communications. With online came various challenges to be overcome with the team considering how we get participants to connect with each other when they can’t meet, how much is too much information online and will this even work!
As it turned out we needn’t have worried so much. Yes, the sessions could have been shorter and some less content intense, but overall the feedback was glowing. In a virtual world, people from the far corners of South Australia, each with individual challenges in their towns came together and bonded, learnt, grew and shared. Huzzah!
As a first session it now leads the way for how we will continue to interact and run practice and capability building sessions online for the Our Town recipients. We’ve already set up a communal space for off line sharing and information, and are currently working on a program of supports for all participating towns during this period of physical distancing, and are looking forward to this new way of working.