Balonne educational ‘Hub’ wins $10,000 for community literacy and numeracy program

Published: 19th October 2022

Announced last night at the Local Government Association of Queensland Annual Conference gala dinner, remote community Balonne Shire Council will receive a $10,000 bursary from Peak Services as winners of this year’s Butch Lenton Memorial Bush Council Innovation Award, contributing further educational opportunities to their higher-education pilot ‘The Hub’.

‘The Hub’ project was developed by Council in partnership with the Country Universities Centre (CUC) and co-designed by the community to improve educational outcomes and provide opportunities through a multifaceted dynamic space for the community to learn, ignite ideas, interact and access high-speed internet.

Balonne Mayor Samantha O’Toole said the project is a win on so many levels, tying into Council’s vision to grow educational opportunities within the region and for the community to ‘grow its own’ into the future.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child and it shows our future in Balonne is brighter because we are changing our community one student at a time,” Mayor O’Toole said.

A panel of judges from across Queensland Local Government was delighted to see an application addressing the needs of the community, collaborating with community and thinking outside the box to find solutions.

“It is certainly always a pleasure to read that a well thought out strategy and subsequent plan provides this sort of outcome. For us in local government that are regularly forced into prioritisation, this is an exemplary application and Balonne and its community should be extraordinarily proud,” Central Highlands Regional Council Mayor Kerry Hayes said.

Local Government Association of Queensland CEO, Alison Smith, said the Country Universities Centres’ dedicated learning and study spaces are beneficial resources for remote communities that don’t generally have access to traditional education facilities.

“The CUCs are an amazing community asset, and the objective Balonne has set is commendable.”

CUC Balonne’s ‘The Hub’ is a Queensland-first low population higher education project that collaborates with local industries,  businesses and the Chamber of Commerce within the shire.

It is specifically designed as a three year pilot with the model to be analysed and refined into an established framework that other Australian rural and remote communities can learn from and implement.

The $10,000 Butch Lenton Award bursary will be used to design and develop a community-relevant language literacy and numeracy program to create an entire education ecosystem within the shire and support the tertiary and vocational education pathways that are now available through ‘The Hub’ facilities.

“As grateful recipients of this award we can start moving forward with our plans, with the goal to provide support to the most vulnerable, isolated and disadvantaged parts of our community and lay the foundation for the transition to employment, promotion or further study,” Balonne CUC Chair Matthew Magin said. 

Currently, in the second year of the pilot, the project has already surpassed its projected outcomes by over 200 percent with a total of 127 students registered to use the facilities. 55 percent of students are over 25 years of age, 43 percent of students identified as first in the family to undertake tertiary education, and 7 percent of students have First Nations heritage.

Current CUC Bachelor of Sustainability student, Lucy Sevil has grown up 50 kilometres south of Balonne in St George and can’t imagine being anywhere else.

“None of this would really be possible without the support and facilities the Country Universities Centre provides,” Ms Sevil said.

“I can spend time in St George near my family and spend time with my younger sister who is in Grade 5. I love being able to pick her up from school go to the bakery and get a snack and then go to the library where she can read and I can study at the CUC – these are the things I would miss out on if I had to relocate to the city [for study]”.

Ms Sevil has already secured work locally in her chosen field with the Murray Darling Basin Authority and the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water.

The Butch Lenton Award recognises innovation in Queensland’s bush councils and celebrates the contribution the late Mayor of Winton Shire, Graham ‘Butch’ Lenton, made to his beloved community of Winton and the local government in Queensland.