THE Wimmera is facing a mountainous challenge when it comes to population retention and growth across our region.
The focus of a Victorian Population Policy Taskforce forum in Horsham on Friday, and at a second forum in Ararat yesterday – two of 17 across the state – brought together community leaders with members of the state Coalition to discuss the issues affecting population growth and decline.
While some areas – including Horsham Rural City – have experienced growth in each Census since 2001, population figures for most of the shires in our region have either stagnated since 2001 or slowly dwindled. Meanwhile, Melbourne’s population has grown 12.1 per cent since 2011.
The Wimmera Mail-Times last week launched a new series, Growing the Wimmera, which aims to put this issue in the spotlight. The launch was timed to coincide with Friday’s forum and the series will run across the coming months. This is not an issue going anywhere, anytime soon.
It’s clear our region faces many challenges. Training and employment opportunities, decentralisation, a quest to return rail services further west than Ararat and attracting skilled workers – particularly in the health industry – were among those raised at Friday’s forum.
But there was also one key, shared positive among those in the room – the lifestyle and liveability the Wimmera can offer its residents.
Initiatives such as Horsham council’s revitalisation strategy are a step in the right direction when it comes to enhancing the lifestyle and liveability the region can offer.
Yes, people need a job – and aspects such as good access to health and education and access to infrastructure such as rail will undoubtedly attract people to the area. Especially initially.
But it is the lifestyle people gain once they arrive that will help ensure they stay.
The great news is it doesn’t take a forum or a revitalisation strategy for us to look at ways to boost the lifestyle and liveability of the Wimmera.
That might be as simple as ensuring new residents feel a sense of inclusiveness, supporting or contributing to festivals and events so they can continue and grow, or maybe it’s having options to shop or dine outside the current timeframes in our towns.
What does lifestyle and liveability mean to you?
Jessica Grimble, editor