VAL Day fell in love with Skipton from the moment she arrived in the town but says it sorely needs a Prince Charming to add a little spark back to the place.
Ms Day moved in about 20 years ago as a nurse not knowing anyone but was comforted to know this was the kind of place where the neighbour across the road brought over a freshly baked loaf of bread.
Skipton residents are uniting in a fight to resist the hamlet diminishing into one of the old, seemingly forgotten country towns they have seen in districts to their south and west. There has been a noticeable rise in families moving to the town amid the pandemic and greater flexibility to work from home.
Skipton residents are determined to give their new town-folk reasons to stay. And so, they are launching an ambitious $6 million play for help.
Town spirit and pride is high - there is no questioning that - but a lack of funding attention after the 2011 floods, a long-shut pub and ongoing pandemic effects have taken a toll with empty shopfronts along the highway through the centre of town.
The "heartbeat" of Skipton is the town's football and netball club, a block off the main thoroughfare.
This is the place of birthday parties, wakes, trivia nights and senior dinners. The volunteer-run club is the only real gathering space but small, outdated facilities unfit under AFL Victoria standards are no longer fit-for-purpose.
Passionate community leaders, under the Skipton Recreation Reserve Redevelopment Committee banner, are calling for change.
A proposed facility overhaul is about far more than sport. The vision is for a true community hub: a place fit for elderly residents to gather, an opportunity for day care facilities, much-needed female change facilities and expanded club rooms.
This is a starting point for community participation and engagement to grow.
They have raised $300,000 for a shovel-ready overhaul, an amount matched by Corangamite Shire, but are calling to be heard by Ballarat-based, newly appointed federal Regional Development Minister Catherine King. They are seeking solid pledges from Ripon candidates ahead of November's state election.
"Skipton people are resilient and resourceful. If you want something done, people will hop in an do it," Val Day said. "We need a Prince Charming to ride in and give us a kiss."
In a tour of the town centre with Australian Community Media, the owner of this masthead, Ms Day points out the new platypus-themed murals - Skipton was the place to see a platypus, she said. One mural fills a pylon under the Glenelg Highway's Emu Creek Crossing.
A new platypus-themed sculpture was installed in the park near the bridge earlier this month. Nearby Skipton Primary School students have been busy planting trees and learning about restoring the creek.
Apart from the roadhouse a little further up, there is the independent grocer and op-shop.
Ms Day dreamed of attracting musical concerts and entertainment to the football club. She said sport and entertainment went well together.
On match days, she can usually be found cheering the Emus near the scoreboard. During the week, Ms Day volunteers at the op-shop, which has helped to fund-raise for the club's major projects such as a 12-seat bus to transport junior players to the club for training.
"I grew up in the country. When I moved here from Melbourne I was made most welcome," Ms Day said. "There have been retirees move here and they're happy to have a quiet life but we have a lot of young families buying land and houses and we need to be looking to the future."
Ms Day is not alone in her concerns young families might naturally drift toward larger regional centres, such as Beaufort or Ballarat, for community support.
Qualified childcare worker Amy Healey moved to Skipton with her farmer husband about 10 years ago. Meeting other young families has been tough.
Ms Healey tried playgroup for a while but the group ceased when all other children started school. She ventured into Beaufort a bit before the pandemic and her eldest daughter is now in kindergarten. Swimming lessons for her girls are in Ballarat.
Skipton's only family day care facility, based at the kindergarten, runs two days a week from 9am to 3.30pm. This caters for about five children and waiting lists push out to years in length.
Skipton mum and redevelopment committee member Megan Read said room for more childcare facilities in the town could be life-changing in encouraging mums to return to work.
She said many had no choice but to forgo employment out of necessity to care for their children and this made it difficult for many young families moving to the area.
The proposed community redevelopment will provide at least 22 jobs in Skipton, which Ms Read said could make a big impact in a small town.
Skipton Recreation Reserve's playground was decommissioned and reduced to rubble outside the canteen a few years ago.
Junior numbers on Thursday training night are strong. The Emus have enough to field two under-13 netball teams, both in training on the court closest to the club rooms.
Skipton Primary School is known for its sporting achievements in football, netball and cricket across the region and this translates to enthusiasm in club training.
High school students start to arrive about 5pm, travelling from Ballarat, Beaufort and Derrinallum for training sessions before the seniors arrive.
Skipton club president Andrew Bodman said these players were the future of the club. Keeping them engaged was not just important for the club but vital socially.
Mr Bodman wanted the clubrooms to always be a place where everyone felt welcome. A club audit showed the Emus drew members across a 60-kilometre radius, from Streatham to Ballarat. Mostly this was friends following mates for a game but Mr Bodman was conscious the club was a key social gathering point for the district.
Club volunteers provide 150 meals at Thursday training sessions. Community members, including Val Day, have been gathering at the club on Friday nights ever since the pub shut its doors in the flood. Meals are again served by club volunteers.
Mr Bodman said the place gets "chockers", especially on match days. Being one single social club room, lots of people were simply turned away.
The social club rooms were formerly a tea-room for older female volunteers in the 1950s. They have been modified and extended and changed many times.
"It's got to a point where patching up doesn't work anymore and it doesn't fit the community's need," Mr Bodman said. "We had a mental health seminar for the club once and had to ask people to leave so we could run it. The room holds the only bar in town but we needed the space for people to be able to talk openly."
Skipton's football club rooms are small with outdated shower and toilets that Mr Bodman said were no longer appropriate. The visitor rooms are tiny and struggle to fit a senior football team, let alone a table for strapping. Any netballer who needs taping or injury treatment on match days must walk through the male change rooms if unable to be properly seen courtside.
Ground resurfacing works and new lighting have updated the facility. The project was self-funded, with a boost from shire wind farms, and relied heavily on in-kind labour. Mr Bodman said the club did its best, but what the community needed now was beyond volunteers alone.
"Being a small community, we need everybody and we try to make good use of all the skills we have in the community. We can't afford to pick and choose," Mr Bodman said. "People's expectations are changing. We need to offer them something to keep them interested and coming back."
Mr Bodman said while artistic investments in the town were great, and added interest for visitors, they did not meet the true need.
Skipton Football Netball Club committee member Simone Smith said now was a perfect chance to shape the club for the future. Ms Smith said Skipton needed people who were moving to the community to get involved in the community, which at the moment was centered at the recreation reserve.
The club has been working with the op-shop to offer vouchers for free entry to match day events.
"We're making sure everyone feels welcomed at the club to start," Ms Smith said. "We need everybody and everybody needs us, it's a symbiotic relationship. We are the largest community group in the area that involves every age group."
Emus' junior footballer James Read said the variety in people at the club was a feature he enjoyed. He said the project was exciting for the whole community.
"Everyone gets around each other here, it's a social place where everyone knows each other," James said. "The project makes me happy because the community will have more social opportunities and chances to come together. It will be good to get renovations so we feel a bit more like a club than just a shadow of others."
Rebuild, recover and reconnect is the motto for the club project. Anyone wanting to show support can do so via the GetUP.org.au petition to help keep the town's heart alive.
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