Youth Hubs in regional NSW provide a life-line following the bushfires

Date: 16 September 2022 

Sony Foundation in partnership with BackTrack Youth Works formally unveiled Youth Hubs this week in two bushfire-affected NSW communities, constructed from shipping containers by many of the young people being supported in the program.

Following the historic Fire Fight Australia concert held in Sydney on 16 February, 2020, Sony Foundation Australia, the youth charity backed by the Sony group of companies, this week opened youth hubs in two bushfire-affected NSW communities with funds raised from Sony Music Entertainment Australia’s Artists Unite for Fire Fight charity album.

In 2021, Sony Foundation granted $450,000 to BackTrack Youth Works for the operations and build of Youth Hubs in Tenterfield and Macksville, NSW. This was made possible from the proceeds of the charity album following the Fire Fight concert.  The album was produced by Sony Music Entertainment Australia, in partnership with TEG, and debuted at Number 1 on the ARIA albums chart.

The ‘Artists Unite for Fire Fight’ charity album featured iconic performances from local and global artists who performed at the concert. Reuben Styles from Sony Music artist, Peking Duk, said, “After the TV crews left, we wanted to make sure we were still supporting young people so terribly affected by the bushfires.” Adam Hyde from Peking Duk, continued “It is incredible to think that music has the power to inspire such generosity to fund youth hubs that will last long after the ash is gone.”

The official Youth Hub openings featured two days of workshops for young people including Aboriginal dance, mural painting, podcast production and song writing with Australian youth charity, Musicians Making a Difference (MMAD) as part of their Bushfire Resilience Tour of Victoria and New South Wales, funded by Sony Foundation.

CEO of Sony Foundation, Sophie Ryan, says initiative was motivated by the unfortunate reality that vulnerable young people are often left behind in community recovery efforts.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder affects 1 in 4 young people following a natural disaster. The most at risk are those who are experiencing social disadvantage or isolation because they’re likely already disengaging from school, training and mainstream support services. Sony Foundation wanted to work with youth programs that could provide support long after the emergency relief left these areas. The resulting youth hubs are safe, social spaces which also provide access to innovative pathways into education, training and employment.”

BackTrack and Sony Foundation collaborated to bring to life their shared vision of ‘pop-up’ youth hubs in bushfire-affected towns where young people in the local programs could also be part of future natural disaster recovery efforts. Resourcefully constructed from shipping containers and designed in partnership with Sony Foundation's Corporate Partner, Valmont who offrered their design services pro-bono to the project. The hubs will be a haven for these young people, each including a kitchen, Sony home entertainment tech including Smart TV’s, Headphones and PlayStations in break-out spaces and a creative studio for podcast and music production. All this and wraparound support services for practical work experience, accredited training and employment opportunities.

Jake Little, aged 16 from Tenterfield, started with the BackTrack program 12 months ago planting trees in the community and said the program has changed his life.

“I was put into the program by the police. I didn’t have any work ethic before I started and it use to be tough waking up and have nothing to look forward to. Now I love waking up, every day is a good day. I just needed a bit of guidance. I never really had anyone by my side to show me, and believe in me. It’s hard for kids growing up these days. It’s easy to go down the wrong path. It’s amazing to be opening up to the community so we can help more people. It feels really good."

MMAD Co-Founder, Dominic Brook says these Youth Hubs and creative workshops have the potential to transform young lives.

“Music is such a powerful tool for healing and we know that the combination of the bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful and traumatic for a lot of young people. It’s been an incredible week working alongside BackTrack and ShoreTrack young people and local high school students to have some big conversations around their experiences and express that creatively,”

So far, the outcomes speak for themselves. Out of the 59 young people engaged across Tenterfield and Macksville (32 of whom are Indigenous), close to half have completed accredited training, 8 have obtained their driver’s licenses and 13 have commenced traineeships, apprenticeships, and entry-level employment. Against the backdrop of 13% youth unemployment in the New England/Northwest region and 10.5% on the Mid-North Coast (compared with a state average of 8.7%), these successes shine even brighter and speak to the efficacy of a community-led approach to youth engagement.                                                                                    

BackTrack Chief Operations Officer, Marcus Watson, says that the support of Sony Foundation has fast-tracked the process of setting up in Tenterfield and has grown the capacity of ShoreTrack’s existing services; enabling both organisations to connect more vulnerable young people with youth work, practical training and local employment pathways.

“We are working with young people who have fallen through the cracks of the system, so they need holistic, flexible and place-based support that addresses the many different factors that keep them disengaged from mainstream training and employment. A huge part of our philosophy is plugging kids into their communities and actually giving them an opportunity to give back. In Tenterfield for example, we have been able engage our participants in hands-on projects like tree planting for Tenterfield Shire Council, mowing and asset maintenance for Homes North Community Housing, fencing with BlazeAid, habitat rehabilitation with OzFish and landscaping for Drake Village Women’s Shed.”

When bushfires and flood crises hit communities in the future, BackTrack and ShoreTrack young people will continue to be engaged in the recovery process, including clearing land, repairing fences and supporting local clean-up efforts. Rather than experiencing stigma and marginalisation in these regional towns, vulnerable youth will be actively contributing to the solution to one of the most pressing issues facing their communities: the impact of climate change.

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