Imagine being in a room full of positive, energetic people connecting, sharing ideas and having fun! They are committed, enthusiastic doers volunteering their time to make it happen in their local communities. It’s buzzing. You can feel the energy in the room.
That’s what it feels like to be part of the Town Team Movement. But, it’s not just a room full of these people now. We’re a growing movement, with hundreds of people actively involved, which stretches from Perth, Western Australia, to Christchurch, New Zealand. And from Broome, Western Australia, to Launceston, Tasmania. From small country towns to busy, inner-city main streets.
Jimmy Murphy, one of the other Co-Founders of Town Team Movement has previously shared his story. I thought I’d provide some insights on how and why I got involved.
From Global to Local
I never imagined I’d be on this journey. I love traveling, nature and exploring new places. I always aspired to be and think like a citizen of the world, a cosmopolitan. Not that you could tell that by seeing the way I dress. Or the food I eat. The international and the exotic appealed to me. Not the local.
I lived, worked and travelled through 28 countries in my 20’s and 30’s. I never thought about connecting with or helping my local community, apart from being part of various sporting teams.
Things changed after we got back from London. My wife and I had returned to Perth after 7 months away this time, disappointed to be back. We had wanted to stay permanently in the U.K., but things didn’t work out.
I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer, with plenty of ideas to share. I had always thought “someone else” should “do something” about all those ideas though, or the problems that sometimes seemed so evident.
One day, I stumbled onto this famous quote from President John F. Kennedy online, and it seemed to inspire and challenge me at the same time. Was I someone? Was I prepared to be part of the solution, or remain as part of the problem?
Hanging out the washing at the back of our apartment in Mount Lawley soon after this discovery, my wife Mel and I had a conversation that changed both our lives. Somewhere between hanging out a shirt and some socks, I decided to connect and get involved in my local community.
I’m not sure where it came from. Before I knew it, I had said, “well if we are back here, we may as well give it a crack and get involved our local community”. Or words to that effect. Mel quickly agreed. So that was it, we were both going to have a go!
Mel’s gone on to become a successful street artist. I wasn’t quite sure what the next step was for me, but being an urban planner working at a local government, I was interested in the concept of placemaking. Of making places better. I thought that might be my opportunity to get involved.
Action by Locals
An inner-city suburb of Perth called Maylands held a special interest for me. The local government I worked for at the time had prepared an urban design framework for the Maylands town centre and we had just completed a rezoning of the town centre to encourage high quality redevelopment. That was it, I had thought, job done! A great place will be the result of our work.
What I noticed though was that it was really the creative locals, the local traders and new businesses that brought the vibrancy, colour and activity to the town centre that we had wanted. Government-led action was part of the answer, but community-led action by enterprising local businesses and residents was even more important for bringing a place to life.
I joined the Beaufort Street Network in Mount Lawley and Highgate in 2012. At my first meeting, I pitched the idea of developing a practical Action Plan to create a Better Beaufort Street. To get this kind of idea approved in a local government would have taken months of wrangling, convincing and waiting.
To my surprise, they agreed straight away. “What do you need to make this happen”? they asked. I was blown away and now committed to creating a community-led Action Plan (rather than another government-led plan to sit on a dusty shelf).
The Network was a bunch of passionate business owners and residents, led by the inspiring John Carey and then by quietly determined Pam Herron, who really made the Network into the success that it became. I had found my niche. I made lots of new friends and felt much more connected to my local area.
We did lots of things: ran the Beaufort Street Festival, which attracted around 120,000 to our main street each year; created a monthly art market; filled lots of blank walls and laneways with street art and led the charge for lots more street trees and greenery. Dozens of actions, from the small, but important to the big, visible changes that made people notice us.
One of my projects included transforming the worst section of street I could find, into something a bit better. I chose a corner and car park that really needed some love. It had an overgrown tree, but very little shade. Unfortunately the local councillor wanted to keep the plain and boring limestone walls because it was “in keeping with the heritage of the area”.
So, I cleaned up the rubbish and glass (frequently), pruned the tree, created some planters out of old oil barrels and found a seat someone was throwing out. I liaised with the supportive Council staff member, who was sympathetic to my desire to clean up the area. Later, new seats and shade trees were installed along this section of street. Today it looks quite nice – but it started out as being pretty awful.
The Network became the model for the first Town Team, followed soon after by similar groups like Leederville Connect and Mount Hawthorn Hub. We didn’t realise at the time, but there were other groups already doing similar things or wanting to.
We started getting asked to help other groups start or advise on how to get things done. So, I’d go and meet them and help if I could. The interest and need for some help and advice kept growing.
Town Team Movement Forms
This guy called Jimmy Murphy kept popping up in conversations. Pretty soon, he was convening meetings of leaders of the various Town Teams in the City of Vincent to see how we could help each other. These meetings sparked the idea for a new organisation to form to support the local Town Teams.
If we could help Town Teams in Vincent however, then why not the rest of Perth? Why not regional Western Australia? Why not the rest of Australia?
I thought about it. I put it to the group and they agreed, We went from being the ‘Vincent Foundation’, to the ‘Town Team Movement’, which could help aspiring teams across all of Australia.
Many conversations, meetings and beers later, we formed a new non-profit company – Town Team Movement – in 2017 to inspire, support, connect and promote Town Teams around Australia. When we formed, there were around 15 similarly-minded community groups in inner Perth. At the time of writing this around 3.5 years later, there are now 79 teams across Australasia, from small regional country towns to new suburbs and traditional town centres.
Why Do I Do It?
Finding your Why? is important. This can help to motivate and focus you, particularly when it’s gets frustrating, difficult or tiring. It’s not all fun!
It took me a long time to find my personal purpose, which I have boiled down to 3 words – Create, Learn, Persevere.
Town Team Movement helps me to live my purpose in life, it makes me a better person. I get to create, I learn everyday and lots of perseverance certainly helps! I’m not working for a paycheck, I’m working for a purpose.
What a difference having a purpose in life means! Instead of drifting, taking and avoiding, I am contributing, enabling and living the change I want to see happen in the world.
We help Town Teams and local ‘doers’ to improve their community, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it is a real way to improve the way a person relates to themselves, their neighbours and their world. It makes the world a slightly better place through many micro actions. It provides hope for our future.
Our movement creates social capital. We believe that: people have the ability to create positive change and, if they are able to, can take more responsibility for improving their community. We don’t protest against the old, we create the new.
How Can You Get Started?
I started with what I had to give – ideas, motivation and a strong desire to see my local area get better.
You might have skills, time or connections. You might have a shop, local knowledge or a willingness to learn. Everyone has something they can give, even a smile and lending support helps! Be positive!
What I have discovered is that the more you give, the more you get back. For me, it’s friends, experiences, inspiration and even employment. I’m now connected to an amazing bunch of people around Australia that I never would have met otherwise.
The most exciting thing is that we have just started on this journey.
So, if you want to connect with people in your community, have fun and make a difference, join us! Be part of something bigger! Act Local!