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Annual Report 2021

Diana Roberts - President

Finally thanks to you, our members. You are part of the team and your support of our activities is essential to successful outcomes. As a committee your gratitude and feedback has kept us going through some pretty challenging times.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we were exempted from holding an AGM in 2020 so this report covers two years – two years we will probably never forget. As a business community we experienced drought and water restrictions, bushfire, flood, COVID-19 and Lismore Council’s unexpected withdrawal from delivery of tourism services – one of Nimbin’s main economic drivers. It is only now that we can perhaps see a light at the end of the tunnel although, with the impacts of climate change being more widely felt, it is unlikely to be a return to “normal” and, arguably, it’s better that it not be.

Coming just after businesses were recovering from the 2019 summer bushfires, Covid-19 has created extraordinary challenges for everyone, especially those running a small business. Businesses have closed, some permanently, businesses have changed how they work and new businesses have emerged. Understandably, those most affected have been the businesses relying on tourism. Accommodation and hospitality have both taken a hit while our arts and cultural opportunities have been few and far between. Fortunately, we have remained Covid free, but the economic and emotional cost has been considerable. The novelty and enjoyment of lockdowns in early 2020 morphed into resentment and tedium by late 2021.

As many businesses faced forced closure for extended periods and valued staff were laid off the Chamber took on the role of providing up-to-date information regarding support. Months were spent grappling with the intricacies of JobKeeper, JobSeeker, State government grants, BAS credits, Zoom conferencing, webinars and more. Fortunately Zoom brought the world to us which made accessing and distributing information so much easier. Zoom meetings also created strong regional connections for the Chamber which brought with it considerable benefits. The most evident is the encouragement and support that resulted in considerable outside funding support being delivered to our village.

Grant opportunities

As a result of the bushfires considerable grant opportunities arose. A grant in support of small business month, held in October 2020, saw the Chamber undertake a survey of main street businesses, employees, and community organisations, seeking feedback on options to replace visitor services previously provided by Lismore City Council. Following analysis of the survey findings we organised a well-attended workshop to explore options for the future.

Lots of exciting ideas for tourism product beyond maps and brochures evolved including self-guided trails, on-farm visits, website development, signage and much more. The workshop also explored options for provision of a staffed visitor information service, identified as important to a strong majority of survey respondents. Outcomes from the workshop informed a successful grant to the Bushfire Recovery & Resilience Fund. $117647 saw delivery of a new village map and brochure about Nimbin. It also provided funding for extensive village signage around the village and, significantly, the Chamber’s website put onto a new platform to run in tandem with the visit Nimbin tourism website. This was important as Lismore Council had withdrawn all support for the visit Nimbin website, an important source of information for visitors.

Originally, we had thought our own website would be expanded to become a dual-purpose website servicing both visitor and local needs. However, receiving the grant enabled us to reactivate the visit Nimbin website and change its attraction to a domestic visitor market rather than the young backpacker market it had been directed to since it was set up. While the Chamber’s website transition is now complete the visit Nimbin website is still a work in progress but will be finished shortly. The project has been delayed by Covid – mainly because opportunities for photo shoots, essential to change the appeal of the visitor website, have been made extremely difficult as we’ve had virtually no people on the streets to take photos of. It’s also become complicated by Lismore Council’s desire to retain ownership of the website.

For businesses to appear on the visit Nimbin website they now need to be members of the Chamber. This decision is designed to support maintenance of both websites into the future and, following an exhausting membership drive, we now have over 60 members. To ensure both websites are kept current and well-utilised and to maintain search engine optimisation, the Chamber has partnered with Nimbin Community Centre to engage a website administrator on an as needs basis. We will be regularly updating the events page and keeping the what’s on current. We will be maintaining and updating the business directory. Our interest is in keeping the website relevant, depicting authentic images and stories of our village, and ensuring only Nimbin businesses are on a Nimbin website, not previously the case. Apart from redesigning the websites, we are also developing a social media strategy directed to Facebook and twitter and are about to launch an on-line, made in Nimbin shop.

Visitor Information Services

In the survey undertaken last year the vast majority of respondents identified the desire for a replacement visitor information centre or VIC. However, VICs cost money to run with most receiving funding from their local Council, local businesses, or a Regional Tourism Organisation. The closed VIC had cost Lismore Council’s budget around $150,000 per year and it was obvious to the Chamber we would need to develop a self-funded model. We utilised the small business grant to engage a facilitator to help explore a number of options and eventually settled on a partnership with the Nimbin Bush Theatre. This VIC will be open 7 days a week and its long-term viability will be supported by its beautiful location and the fact it is being run in conjunction with a retail outlet and café, alongside a long-established and popular visitor attraction – Nimbin Candle Factory. The online retail shop will be run out of the VIC and hopefully this will assist to support it and we are optimistic other visitor attractions will appear here. We have also submitted a grant to seal the car park and are waiting to hear if it was successful.

Lismore Council and tourism funding

While the Chamber was undertaking all these initiatives Lismore Council, recognising the implications of withdrawing funding from tourism, put tourism back into its budget as a line item. The Chamber had lobbied hard for this to occur with the idea funds would be directed to delivering a tourism development officer for the village. That lobbying was successful and we now have a full-time tourism destination officer based in Nimbin and working alongside the VIC. This is not quite the development position we were hoping for but we are working in that direction and Wil Polson is a great asset to our community.

Rainbow Road Walking Track

The main aim of the Chamber’s efforts in relation to tourism is not to increase visitor numbers but to get visitors to stay longer and to better appreciate and understand the things we value about our village and our lifestyle choices.  To this end we have been long-time supporters of the Rainbow Road Walking Track, committing funding to exploring the feasibility of the track and working up the design and route. In July 2020, thanks to support from Cr Elly Bird, Rainbow Road was reinstated in Council’s delivery plan which freed up staff resources to support the project. On the ground that meant very little as Council was too cash-strapped to spend time on the project. However, in September 2020 Robyn Francis and I walked out the extension of the track through the Alternative Way development, stage two, and when funding became available through the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund months of work went into preparing a grant application for stages one and two. That grant was successful and last month Council finally received the first instalment of a $2.54m project. The project will be managed by Lismore Council who have set up a working group to oversee the project. Over time the community will be consulted with regard to design, route and special features as the project is far more than a walking track and has the potential to transform our village in really positive ways.

11a Alternative Way

At the same time as the grant was being written the community, driven by the Nimbin Community Centre, set about raising funding to purchase 11a Alternative Way with a view to creating a parkland retreat for visitors and locals, adding depth to the walking track experience, providing opportunities for bird watching, picnicking, education, and socialising. The $350,000 purchase was made possible thanks to a partnership with Rainbow Power Company and contributions from local businesses, community organisations and individuals. The Chamber itself contributed $20,000.

What else has the Chamber been doing?

The Chamber’s main source of income is from the special business rate levy collected from main street business properties for the purpose of economic development. This levy raises around $17,000 each year and last year we were successful in getting Council to agree to pay the funds directly to the Chamber. Rather than account for our expenditure up front and wait for the funds to arrive we can now spend the funds and inform Council in an annual report.

Over the years the levy has been used for a variety of activities around street beautification. Murals have been a big focus and in 2020 we contributed to restoration of the mural above the Nimbin School of Arts. We have had restoration of the mural above Daizy’s in our sights for some time but have failed as yet to get an artist to undertake the work. We have also provided a lot of event sponsorship over the years but the past 20 months in a global pandemic have consisted of one cancelled event after another including Mardi Grass, the Roots Festival, Blue Moon Cabarets, the Poetry World Cup, sports events, the Nimbin Show, local markets, and art exhibitions. Just before Covid hit we did help to organise a very successful New Year’s Eve bushfire fundraiser, a wonderful affirmation of the community in which we live, and in the following months we participated in a disaster recovery committee which contributed to development of the Nimbin

Disaster Plan

To support businesses through the pandemic the Chamber waived membership fees for 12 months and ran regular shop local promotions, supporting an initiative we had commenced in 2019. We have also participated in developing Lismore Council’s business reactivation plan which has resulted in strong partnerships forming between Nimbin businesses and Council’s economic development unit. Until now it has been very difficult to get Council to engage with our business community so we are excited by the potential this partnership could deliver. A working group has been established to oversee implementation of the plan with representation from the Chamber and our business community through Jodee Tichbourne.

After almost a decade of lobbying, the review of the Nimbin Development Control Plan occurred. The Chamber made lengthy and detailed submissions and also organised a very well attended virtual meeting to facilitate community engagement and feedback. While the new DCP doesn’t deliver everything we would hope for, it made some significant changes to planning for the future development of the village. Significantly it has drawn attention to our concerns around water security and the impact of unfettered development both in the village and the surrounding rural area.  We are currently lobbying for a whole of village plan to be funded through Council. Such a plan would look at far more than development control. It considers things like traffic management, community needs, what we want our village to look like and deliver and more.

In support of development the Chamber has been lobbying for a review of the red tape that currently accompanies development and a review of where funds collected from development for open space and community facilities are being directed. There needs to be more accountability in this regard. We lobbied extensively for the fire site development proposals. While developments for both sites were approved by Council last year, the former museum site is now on the market and the Rainbow Café seems unlikely to emerge from the ashes. There’s talk of resurrecting development of The Cubes, a far less popular development, while the main growth is in housing construction, exorbitant property price rises and associated rent increases. Homelessness and the lack of housing is a major challenge of our time.

Relationship with Council

As regards our relationship with Council, it is one thing to give Council feedback, it is another to see that feedback acted on. Following an initial tour of our village we never saw some of the Councillors again – and they’ve had a 5-year term – if they didn’t resign earlier! Councillors on the previous Council most responsive to Nimbin issues and concerns were Elly Bird, Darlene Cook, Vanessa Ekins and Neil Marks and I’d like to acknowledge their interest and contribution. Hopefully the new Council will be more engaged with us.

The future

We recently wrote a successful grant to hold an evening street festival in our village – designed to bring the community back into public open spaces and to engage with the local business community. It’s a $15,000 grant and we have lots of exciting ideas planned. We are also working up ideas to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Aquarius Festival in 2023. The idea is to generate regional interest and participation while we have a concentration of activities in Nimbin. More on both of these ideas will be shared with you in the near future, most likely through our monthly Chamber Chat which has been our ongoing commitment to keeping you informed.

Tonight will also see a new Chamber committee. I will be stepping down as President after 3 years in the role (our constitution allows for 2 terms and we missed the AGM last year) and Steph Seckold has chosen not to stand for re-election. She has been a fantastic asset for our group and we will miss her creative input. She managed the signage element of our grant and the results of her work will be evident soon. She also designed and consulted on the village map and brochure which we are excited to be launching tonight.

Members of the current committee standing for re-election are well known to you – David Spain our fastidious and reliable secretary, Peter Hughes who has been treasurer for as long as I can remember, and local business and community members Sammi Allen, Kylie Cain, Caroline Todd and Teresa Biscoe. We’ve been a good team and I’ve really appreciated their support. Creating a dynamic Chamber is not something that can be done on one’s own – it’s been a team effort and we’ve achieved some fantastic things as a team in a small village.

Finally thanks to you, our members. You are part of the team and your support of our activities is essential to successful outcomes. As a committee your gratitude and feedback has kept us going through some pretty challenging times.

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