Bushlight’s Livelihood program focus is on working with communities that would like to make more productive use of energy to improve the community’s livelihood and wellbeing. We select communities that have the motivation and have an idea of where they would like to go. Wanmarra is a hard working community, building their own horticulture project and working in whatever capacity is available to them in their region. Residents expressed a desire to build a solid community plan, clearly stating their own story, achievements, capabilities and future directions. They wanted to be able to share this plan with the multiple service providers that continually visit their community who often will ask the same questions over and over again. Often, these service providers have their own agendas that need fulfilling, which don’t necessarily match up to community aspirations. The community wanted to able to simply refer stakeholders to the plan that they had developed themselves.

Different elements of the livelihoods project and the community plan

Bushlight approached the community planning sessions using an Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) model. The approach is very similar to how Bushlight works when they run their Community Energy Planning Meetings (CEPM), which is a model used when working with communities to design a new solar system. It works on building a positive picture of existing community assets, skills and resources, and then using this as a basis to expand into future projects. The model tries to avoid a deficit approach where you look at a community and see what is missing. Within this ABCD approach you utilise some common engagement tools in your community consultation. In building the community plan, we all wanted to make something that would be a living document, with long-term relevance. We also wanted it to look and be of quality, starting from the beginning, telling Wanmarra’s story through its history, land, families, networks, skills, resources and future goals. The outcome of the plan also included detailed and achievable plans.

Involving different families, organisations, resources and service-providers in formulating the plan

At the start, the most important collaborators were the remote Indigenous community residents themselves, who made a commitment to an extended process of attending a series of local community consultations, while gaining the support of the resource agency at that time, Ngurratjuta. Ngurrratjuta supported the project early by committing to support any funding applications for the Horticulture project, and worked with Bushlight to gain funding to secure and connect two small houses to the Bushlight power system. Their staff also worked on refurbishing two small shelter houses with insulation, tiling, cupboards, kitchen installs and some internal electrical work. In the middle of the project, Ngarratjuta passed on its obligations to Ingkerreke, who continued to support the project goals, assisting with funding applications and providing staff resources. In addition, the Northern Territory Government provided funding for connecting power to the small houses. Bushlight spoke to many agencies such as RM Williams, who are looking after the new Henbury Station Carbon Farming Project, and others like the Aboriginal Carbon Fund, Centrefarm and NT Parks and Wildlife, on tenure arrangements, carbon farming and employment opportunities for the people of Wanmarra.

Project-managing the process with CfAT and Bushlight teams

From the Bushlight and CfAT teams, a range of their technical staff contributed towards the community plan and subsequent projects, as project managers. This included Bushlight’s Community Engagement Support team, CfAT’s water team and project services team. Part of the beauty of CfAT is that is has so much residential expertise to draw on. The services provided by CfAT and Bushlight included: project coordination, facilitating community meetings, delivering a community water management plan, and infrastructure costings.

Implementing the plan:

Wanmarra resident are very practical and focused on their goals. They have set simple achievable targets for fixing up their essential infrastructure so it can service the community for the long term. The two priority projects were making the shelter houses liveable and bringing reliable 24-hour power to these new dwellings. The other was to assess and repair their water infrastructure, and secure long term water supplies for their horticulture gardens.
A larger goal for the community is to gain regular well-paid employment for its local remote community Indigenous residents.

The outcomes of the plan so far include that:

  1. The shelter houses have been refurbished by Nguarratjuta and a grant given by the NT Government to connect them to power will be completed by July 2012.
  2. A water supply plan and new designs for repairs have been developed by CfAT’s water and projects team, with plans to approach selected agencies and government for funding for this project.
  3. Making progress towards well-paying employment for community residents, through further developing their own garden produce.
  4. Learning how to utilise skills in horticulture and the existing nursery, to grow native seedlings for future carbon farming projects.
  5. Beginning to look at the long-term security of the community’s Bushlight community energy system, as further infrastructure and new projects are added including extra housing, internet, sheds and warehouses that will  require extra power. One of the developments on this front, is Bushlight installation of PowerBoost, which is a programme to enable the Bushlight BL2 system to be more dynamic and flexible, providing extra power to residents when there is identified spare capacity within the batteries.

The next steps ahead

Overall, Wanmarra residents are very happy with their plan are now showing it to all their visitors, including politicians.
A community plan is only a simple thing but it sets a clear signal and direction where before there was none to share. Residents have stated that they would be happy completing just one or two of their identified projects, which the CAT and Bushlight teams are well on the way, to helping to implement. Overall, it is interesting to note how residents have shared that it is important for them to clearly set down their thoughts, aspirations and goals so they can guide the future direction of their community. It is inspiring to see that indeed, their vision is clear and the process is advancing.