An invitation to have a seat and a conversation is the idea behind a unique project that’s been travelling around the Great Ocean Road all summer 2011-12.
By the time winter arrives hundreds of people will have sat in a travelling red chair to talk about fire, ask questions, voice their thoughts and concerns, look at a copy of their local Town Protection Plan and to share their personal experiences.
The red chair is the idea of Emma Taunt, a TPP community engagement project officer in the Barwon South West region.
She and a colleague have been travelling up and down the coast from Torquay to Apollo Bay, and to inland towns including Lavers Hill, Forrest, Deans Marsh and Barwon Downs, talking to people in high-risk areas about fire.
Each of the communities was involved in shaping its local Township Protection Plan to reflect the local area. After the plans had been distributed to households and made available online, Emma felt it was time to get some informal feedback, to listen to what locals had to say and to raise awareness of issues around fire safety.
With a background in teaching both young children and adults, she says it’s a deliberately light approach that’s designed to build trust and relationships between communities and CFA.
It’s about finding out where people’s knowledge about fire safety is at through a conversation and providing the next step.
“Information and the TPP is on hand if they want it but the conversation is steered by the person,” she says.
Local brigades are the first port of call for information about a town, along with information about any events they have planned and ideas about a good spot to set up.
Brigades have been very enthusiastic about the project and feedback from the public has invariably been positive.
“We need to get to different parts of the community and we have a range of ways to do that. This is one way that’s reaching people who might never otherwise come to our meetings and programs and hear about bushfire safety,” she says.
Topics that people have raised have ranged from sharing their experiences of fire and loss, fire plans, fire ratings and warnings to questions about bunkers and neighbourhood safer places.
“I feel this approach bridges the gap between CFA’s written material and the more traditional ways of being involved, like joining a local brigade or attending meetings and programs,” she says.
“When we’re face to face with a person in the red chair we can narrow down the information to make it specific for them.”
Photo credit: Emma Taunt and Lisa Robinson
Story written by Yvonne Pecujac