A focus on building volunteer patrol numbers, increasing community engagement and developing its training capabilities has paid off in spades for the Mildura Life Saving Club (LSC) this past season.

While the inland club had a few challenges a few years ago due to low member numbers, it has recently enjoyed a renaissance of sorts thanks in no small part to a dedicated push from its committee to step up community involvement and save the club.

President Dennis McLaughlan first became involved in the club five or six years ago and said he recognised it was important to help the club get back on its feet.

“I had a background at surf clubs, many moons ago, on the north coast of NSW and I knew it was a good organisation to be involved in. I thought it would be good for the kids and it would be a shame to see it lost in the community. Others in the community felt the same and had the same idea.”

Dennis said it was because of a culmination of a lot of work done by various parties over the past few years – including club captain Adrian Adams, the club’s committee, LSV and western district coastal clubs – that the club had seen more active patrol members come on board recently.

Adrian said active patrol member numbers at Mildura had jumped from a core of just eight about three years ago to about 25 at end of the 2019-20 season.

“This year in particular we’ve had a huge spike. It’s a combination of the efforts of the committee over the past five or six years to attract new people,” he said.

A good relationship between the club and Portsea SLSC, which opened up spots in its bronze medallion program for junior Mildura members to take part, had gone a long way to help train up active patrol members.

“This year we had four junior members complete the course at Portsea and another 10 that completed either full or partial training for bronze or CPR locally thanks also to support from LSV Area Training and Assessment Officers and the Port Campbell SLSC,” Adrian said.

Last year, after its new committee had formed, the club identified new ways it could progress the club with a focus on training improvements and community involvement.

“Dennis has taken on the role of getting qualified as a trainer, with the goal of being able to train our own members instead of getting people 500km away to come and train us,” Adrian said.

“We’re hoping to get to a spot where we’re self-sustainable moving forward.”

A focus on building up its youth membership, especially its Nippers program, is another big part of the club’s strategy.

Nippers is where you’re going to build your future membership up, when you get it up and running. We jumped from a dozen kids when I first got involved in Nippers a while back, up to 30 and then to 55 a couple of seasons ago,,” Adrian said. One major recent achievement has been progressing Nippers through to bronze medallions – we’ve had nine doing surf rescue/bronze training this season. 

The club has also recently reestablished a partnership with the local high school with a program that has seen year 8 students volunteer one hour with the club as a prelude to doing volunteer work as part of the school curriculum in years 9 and 10.

Dennis said tapping into local networks that already existed – schools, sporting clubs, businesses, council and other authorities – had been key.

“It’s about thinking outside the square to what other organisations and parts of the community we can dip into and share resources with,” he said.

Another success had been twice a week training nights for members, which was all about bringing the club together.

“Adrian and I are likeminded people, we’re involved in other clubs that do training together and we thought, we don’t do any training at the club, let’s implement something,” Dennis said.

“When you get together, you have a bit fun, a bit of exercise. Club activity brings people together.”

Dennis said developing a sense of club culture and community atmosphere was particularly important for Mildura LSC as an inland lifesaving club – as was developing its connections to the wider lifesaving community in Australia.

“For clubs on the coast, it’s natural to play football and netball during winter months and then it’s an easy transfer across to surf clubs for summertime.  We don’t have that culture in Mildura yet but we’re trying to develop it in our young people and parents.”

“Surf clubs are a major part of their communities, so it’s about selling this idea that once you’re part of this club, you’re part of this big organisation across Victoria and the country. Because you belong to this wider lifesaving family, you’ve got access to likeminded people across the country.

“And that’s a major thing for us to develop in our members moving forward – the club has got a culture and likeminded people, you can get involved and it can open a door if you do go somewhere else.”

As a result of increased community engagement with the club, Mildura LSC has also benefited from having its profile raised within the community, which had led to further opportunities.

The increased support of local business and working with Mildura council has been an absolute bonus. This was really good for us in terms of our clean up the beach project,” Dennis said.

“We also worked with the council and authorities closely after a young backpacker drowned, putting education signs up at hostels and at backpackers to warn visitors about river dangers and the importance of water safety.”

LSV General Manager of Lifesaving Services Simon White said the club’s recent successes were worthy of praise.

“The club has done some great work in recent times in relation to building qualifications and relationships with the wider western area,” he said.

“The club’s new committee has made some important inroads when it comes to sourcing new members, in developing strong community engagement, as well as implementing training improvements to increase their patrol capacity numbers.

“With thanks to the efforts of Adrian and Dennis in particular, as well as other clubs around Victoria, the club has taken quite a few leaps and strides this year, all of which will set them up well for next season.”

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