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Westpac backs post-disaster community recovery

10 September 2015

10 September 2015


Westpac has opened its 2015 round of Natural Disaster Recovery Grants, offering up to $300,000 in financial assistance to help communities recovering from natural disasters earlier this year. Applications are closing soon.


Communities in the fire damaged Adelaide Hills, cyclone-affected South East Queensland and West Arnhem, and those hit by major NSW East Coast storms and floods earlier this year know only too well that it's only once the dust settles after a natural disaster that its true impact is realised.


Recognising that recovery in these communities is ongoing, Westpac Group has announced it will offer up to $300,000 in grants to local organisations in disaster-affected communities that are aiding their community's social and economic recovery and building resilience.


Siobhan Toohill, Westpac Group Head of Sustainability said the grants are offered six to nine months after natural disasters to supplement the immediate support packages made available to communities at the time of the disasters.


"At Westpac, we have a long history of helping communities affected by natural disasters," Ms Toohill said.


"We pride ourselves on being first on the ground to assist customers suffering from the hardship. This includes offering relief packages with deferred repayment terms for home loans, increasing credit limits and fast tracking insurance claims.  Our local people are also first to roll up their sleeves, volunteering their time to support clean-up efforts."


"But we're also last to leave affected regions, by extending natural disaster recovery grants around six to nine months later.  That's because we've learnt from previous disasters that this timeframe is critical for the restoration of affected communities," she said.


"We see these grants as providing much needed support not only for the recovery efforts, but also in building greater resilience to make affected communities stronger in the face of future events."


Who can apply?


Grants up to the value of $10,000 each will be offered to support recovery projects such as:


" Repairs and rebuilding of community infrastructure, to ensure local residents and community groups have places to meet and to coordinate and hold community activities;
" Regeneration of people and places, recognising that disaster recovery can lead to stress and anxiety, reduced capacity to fundraise and coordinate projects, and health and wellbeing issues among the broader affected community; or
" Economic development activities that assist with returning tourism to impacted regions and capturing opportunities for economic renewal.


Applications for this year's round of grants are now invited from local organisations in Adelaide Hills, South Australia, affected by bushfires in January 2015; Central Queensland, Fitzroy and Wide Bay Burnett, Queensland, impacted by Cyclone Marcia; East and West Arnhem, Northern Territory, impacted by Cyclone Lam; and Hunter (including Dungog and Maitland), Newcastle, and Central Coast, New South Wales impacted by storms in April 2015.

Blue Mountain locals' post-bushfire recovery


Following the devastating Blue Mountains bushfires, a Westpac grant helped Blackheath Area Neighbourhood Centre create individual disaster plans for local people with disability or mental health issues, who are more likely than others to be injured in a disaster.


Bushfires which burnt through the Blue Mountains in October 2013 provided a stark reminder of the vulnerability of people with disability or mental health issues. Research shows during natural disasters, people in this situation are twice as likely as the general population to be injured or suffer a fatality.


For Sue Johnston, Community Access Service Manager at Blackheath Area Neighbourhood Centre, it brought home the urgent need to ensure local residents had the support they needed when it was needed most.


"We identified a number of local people living with disability or mental illness who were at high risk when fires come through the Mountains, whether due to lack of basic access issues, knowledge or mobility. We felt a strong responsibility to support these people," Sue said.


"We successfully applied for a Westpac Natural Disaster Recovery grant, which gave us the funding we needed to work on a program which looks at each individual's situation around which we designed a unique disaster plan."


Sue cited the example of a woman with limited mobility or communication following a brain injury, who lives independently in her own home.


"During the bushfires, she was assisted to the local evacuation centre, but due to her communication challenges, it was a distressing situation both for her and the centre volunteers," said Sue.


"We've now put in place a process for emergencies so she has eight neighbours she can now call. These people were all very happy to help and can recognise her down the phone so they can respond. The team has also created a process for boarding her pet and have purchased her a smart phone so she can use the 'Fires near me' app.


"It sounds so simple but this sort of support has given her a real sense of power and control of her life. Giving people the independence and confidence that they will be okay and helping them to be better prepared should another natural disaster strikes makes a big difference to their wellbeing," she said.


"This project has connected people in the community beyond the basic goals of the grant and really promoted community cohesiveness. People often think it's about replacing buildings and material things, but it's also about building relationships, providing support and reconstructing the social fabric of a community."