It’s strange to think that, barely two years ago, we weren’t allowed to gather in groups of more than 10 people.

Now, having recently welcomed hundreds of people each night into the Hervey Bay Boat Club Christmas Lights Spectacular, those days thankfully feel like a distant memory.

The past few years have taught us many things, but perhaps most significantly, they have reminded us of the power and importance of connection.

The focus of HBNC’s 2023-2026 Strategic Plan is Creating Connected Communities.

While this may seem like a basic concept, and something that’s at the core of the human experience, unfortunately it is not always so simple.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, “data from the longitudinal Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey shows that, consistently from 2001 to 2021, about 1 in 5 Australians agreed with the statement 'I often feel very lonely'.”

As recently as October 2022, about 36% of Australian adults said they had experienced loneliness within the past week.

This goes to show that, while COVID-19 impacted our ability to connect dramatically, it can’t be held entirely responsible.

Loneliness and isolation are real concerns in our community, and this has been the driving force behind many of HBNC’s proudest moments this year.

The Hervey Bay Boat Club Christmas Lights Spectacular, mentioned earlier, was just the latest in a series of events and initiatives aimed at combatting the growing problem of disconnection in our community.

Yes, it was a wonderful opportunity to see some stunning light displays, but more than that, it was a chance to come together as a community.

In what was a bumper year for new services and projects, HBNC launched a number of programs specifically aimed at breaking down the walls of isolation and ensuring all community members could participate fully.

The first was the Community Access Program (CAP), funded by the Australian Government.

CAP delivers service navigation, emotional and mental wellbeing support, as well as digital and financial literacy training.

What most in the community came to know it for, however, was free fun and games at their local parks, thanks to the Meet The Neighbours initiative.

This series of community outreach events, sparked by a creative idea from Homa Honarmand, became a new HBNC initiative aimed at bringing locals together.

We were also proud to introduce Connecting Communities, a Social Prescription initiative this year.

HBNC’s Connecting Communities Social Prescription Pilot Program aims to support and empower Fraser Coast residents to connect, participate, contribute and thrive in our community.

Based on models developed in the UK, social prescribing is proven to improve health outcomes by addressing the issues of social isolation and loneliness through engagement with social and physical activities.

The program has been funded by the Queensland Government and enables health care professionals to refer patients to a HBNC Link Worker, to co-design a non-clinical, low level social prescription approach to improving patient's health and wellbeing.

A key activity to already come out of the Social Prescription initiative is indoor lawn bowls, a free, weekly get-together in the Hervey Bay Community Centre.

All are welcome to come along at 1pm on Fridays to enjoy lawn bowls, company and afternoon tea, for sale at The Wandering Teapot Café.

Of course, these are just a few new initiatives rolled out this year.

HBNC continues to deliver so many other services aimed at creating connected communities.

Comfort Kitchen has reached its pre-COVID numbers, welcoming more than 100 diners each Wednesday evening.

While this unfortunately shows the need in our community, and the pressures created by the rising cost of living, it is heart-warming to know that so many people are coming together to connect and socialise each week.

If you would like to support Comfort Kitchen, please consider donating via our online appeal.

Culture Caf, a popular event aimed at raising awareness and educating about different cultures, underwent a transformation this year.

Previously a monthly event, Culture Caf transitioned to larger, quarterly events.

This not only served to put the spotlight on particular cultures, but also brought larger numbers of people together.

This was best demonstrated by the highly successful Bollywood night and fundraising event for Ukraine.

The coming year already promises more opportunities to connect, participate and thrive in our community.

We are thrilled to announce the new Lunch With Friends project – fortnightly lunch events held at the Urangan Community Wellness Centre, aimed at bringing older people together over healthy and affordable food.

We’re also looking forward to Global Beats, a celebration of art, music and cultural harmony in our community.

This free event on Saturday, March 23 at Seafront Oval, will offer live music, cooking demonstrations, art and craft, and so much more.

Building connection is not something we can do alone. It takes the whole community to find out what’s happening, get involved, or consider how they can help.

We want to take this time to sincerely thank the many partners, funding bodies, sponsors and supporters who have helped make this year such a success.

It truly feels like our community is coming to life and connecting in a new and exciting way, and we are so grateful to be part of that.