Gwydir Shire Council Social Services Manager Suzy Webber has a big smile and an even bigger heart. Working from Bingara’s Neighbourhood Centre in north-west NSW, 100km east of Moree, she has become a vital link between the community and government support agencies during the country’s ongoing drought.
Suzy explained her role is to assist people with their drought assistance funding applications in order to speed up the process and reduce workload for the district’s rural financial counsellors.
“Drought assistance funding is now available in many forms, whether it be through federal or state governments, Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul, Drought Angels, Rural Aid or the CWA,” she said.
“For many people, those funding applications can be quite daunting and time consuming. They can struggle to find the right words to describe their situation, but it’s not hard for me. I can help people fill their applications out quite quickly.”
Suzy said she refers farmers to rural financial counsellors for large grant opportunities.
“We’ve been able assist farmers with their preparation work for big grant funding,” she said.
“We can assist with the little bits and pieces which takes the pressure off both sides (farmers and the Rural Financial Counselling Service) and, again, speed up the process.
“Some of the forms have to be filled out online and farmers can struggle doing that. It’s nice to be able to say to them, ‘come into the office, have a cup of tea and let’s go through these applications together’.”
Catching up with the local farming sector on an individual basis has also provided an important mental health check-in.
“With Primary Health Network funding we put on seven events in 2019 for the district’s farmers,” Suzy said.
“We had over 800 farmers with their families come and have a meal together, and access the various services while they were there, or take a card for following up later.”
Suzy said the neighbourhood centre has proved to be an exceptional resource to assist the community at this incredibly difficult time, and from a mental health perspective had helped keep people afloat.
Gwydir Shire Mayor John Coulton said one of Council’s functions especially in these trying times is to provide this service, demonstrating to the community “we’re all in this together”.
“Suzy’s got quite a good success rate,” he said. “Some of those application forms can be difficult but she’s so good at them now, it’s streamlined the process for everybody. “People can be overwhelmed and if Suzy is able to help them with their applications you see the relief on their face straightaway.
It’s been great for people who are already under a fair bit of stress – not only with the drought but now we’ve got pressure from the [COVID-19] pandemic as well.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person meetings with Suzy are suspended. However, her assistance is still available by contacting her on 02 6724 2071.