SCU | A safe haven and partner - Northern Rivers floods

Awards category
The Community Champion Award
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As the two-year anniversary of the Northern Rivers’ flood disaster approaches, the community is still wrestling with the scale of the recovery effort. In major regional centres such as Lismore, businesses and schools remain boarded up. People await safe, long-term housing.

The Northern Rivers sits on the nation’s mostactive flood plain, but the events of early 2022 were extreme – exceeding theprior historic peak by almost three metres. One in four Lismore residents –about 12,000 people – were displaced.

In the early hours of the event, Southern CrossUniversity recognised it had both the capacity – and a heartfelt responsibility– to respond to the crisis and to support critical regional systems, includingeducation and emergency services. Campus buildings became shelters, pop-upsupermarkets and distribution centres. As the year unfolded, emergency andcommunity services, as well as several schools, found a home. Many remain.

The scale of the crisis and experience of rebuilding provoked a profound reflection in the university community about its role. Since its inception almost 30 years ago, Southern Cross University has been a proud part of the fabric of its communities. Through 2022 and 2023, it also has become full partner to government and the community in planning a vital future for Northern Rivers, building to new levels of regional resilience, adaptation and renewal.

Finalist - Southern Cross University

"The relocation of the Living School to Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus following the 2022 floods shows the University’s deep connection with its regional community.

As Principal of the Living School and an alumnus of the university, I valued this arrangement in providing continuity for our students, and a safe and secure environment with access to excellent facilities. It also has created a unique opportunity for Southern Cross University’s education students to collaborate with the Living School and explore innovative teaching approaches.  The consolidated presence on the university campus with other schools has encouraged resource sharing and program collaboration.

Southern Cross University’s commitment to supporting local students affected by the floods demonstrates the university’s dedication to the community’s well-being. As fellow educators, their support in maintaining a stable learning environment for these students is both heartening and vital, particularly given the disruptive impact of the pandemic on school education.

We have had Southern Cross University’s occupational therapy students enhance our children’s social and cognitive skills through an innovative project. This partnership is a testament to the genuine integration between the university and the Living School.  

Southern Cross University’s steadfast support for our school, the local community, and its students has created a profound and enduring impact. The University’s seamless partnership with the Living School and its commitment to local education in times of need are clear demonstrations of its dedication to making a positive difference in the lives of the people of our region."

John Stewart

Conductor (principal), Living School

"Trinity Catholic College, its staff and students, feel heartfelt appreciation for the remarkable support we have received from Southern Cross University during the past two years.

Our College faced unprecedented challenge in February 2022 when the school was inundated by 14.4 meters of floodwater, rendering both campuses uninhabitable.

We were gravely concerned about the impact of this upheaval on our students – in terms of both academic success and retention – coming off the back of a sustained period of COVID disruption.

With 970 students at the time needing a place to continue their education, I reached out to Southern Cross University for help. The response was a resounding: “Yes!”

The initial arrangement started with a modest space in a university building, but it soon evolved into a thriving campus where all students and staff found a new home. In 2023, the entire College was eventually reunited on the SCU campus.

The homecoming was a poignant moment, marking a return to normalcy after everything our students had endured. The partnership with the University has given the College a new home and opened doors to a brighter future for its students and staff.  

I look forward to exploring further opportunities with Southern Cross University, such as building partnerships with university faculties, which could offer exciting opportunities for both senior students and staff. It will create clearer pathways to tertiary studies and more learning opportunities.  

The support and generosity of Southern Cross University have enabled Trinity Catholic College to recover and flourish after an event that would otherwise be completely devastating.

The University’s commitment to our College, community, and students has made a profoundly positive difference in our journey across 2022 and 2023."

Jesse Smith

Principal, Trinity Catholic College

"Southern Cross University’s operation, both during and in the time since the historic Northern Rivers floods, is a model for how institutions, government and community can work together in the face of unprecedented and disruptive challenge.

The University's commitment to our community has been nothing short of remarkable. To truly appreciate its contribution, one must imagine what might have happened had it not mobilised; not extended its resources and expertise in the region’s time of crisis. The emergency shelter, housing for first responders and operations, for medical services, for business recovery, for the many hundreds of students who continue to study at the Lismore campus to this day.

The implications for our community and economy had the University not stepped up would have been dreadful. The human impact and cost would be worse; the recovery much slower. The University's support was particularly vital when governmental assistance was scarce in the immediate aftermath of the floods. This commitment, rooted in values, has left an indelible mark on our community, one that we will forever cherish.

Through 2023, the University's work continues as we strive to restore stability. They are now instrumental in guiding our recovery planning, serving as knowledge brokers and ensuring that our community is well-informed, and actively involved in this long journey of rebuilding.

I believe this is a new model and it is one we should appreciate and strive to understand. The world has many complex and challenging problems to solve for, and we will only solve for them using levels of responsiveness and partnership such as we have witnessed here in recent years.

I wholeheartedly endorse this nomination and welcome any discussion on this matter."

Janelle Saffin

MP, State Member for Lismore

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