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Breathing energy into Elmhurst

A desire by the Elmhurst community to create an annual family fun day with as many free activities as possible has resulted in the ‘Festival of the Wind’.

With the inaugural event held in March 2006 at the Elmhurst Recreation Reserve, the Festival of the Wind showcases beautiful kites and includes fun kite-making workshops and a unique Weather Vane Sculpture Competition sponsored by Pacific Hydro.

The festival also features family favourites, including an animal farm, face painting, jumping castle, rock climbing, bush games, competitions, free show bags and musical entertainment. There are also stalls offering local culinary delights and arts and crafts.

President of the Elmhurst and District Community Development Group Mandy Harrison said the idea stemmed from a kite festival in Tasmania.

“We knew we wanted to conduct a festival for the local community and one of our members saw a similar festival in Tasmania,” she said.

“We thought it was something unique for the region and would appeal to the local community and surrounding districts. It was also a chance to showcase the recreation reserve as a beautiful spot for people to come and see.”

The group set up a community meeting to gauge support for the initiative, which was strongly welcomed. The next challenge was creating a special festival committee and seeking funding.

Jodie Greene, Anna Greene, Donna Belden, Jan Darbyshire, Tony Roberts, Kathryn Schuuring, Geoff Penna, Susanne Harvey and Stuart Smith all put their hands up to be part of the festival committee.

As a first step, they met with the Lake Bolac Eel Festival organisers to quiz them about what made a successful community event. From there, the festival committee developed a plan of attack to create a free family fun day with wind as its main theme.

In the first two years of the Festival, VicHealth contributed a total of $17,500 in funding, Pacific Hydro $2,500 and Grampians Pyrenees Primary Care Partnership (PCP) $4,000. Thousands of dollars worth of goods were donated by businesses in both the Ararat and Pyrenees municipalities, including fruit and vegetables, toys for show bags, discounts on meat and donated trade services.

“One thing that blows me away is the willingness of the community to support Elmhurst,” said Jodie Greene.

“We don’t have big businesses here to approach so we had to go out of the town to ask for support. The response was: “no problem, what do you need?”

Jodie said the Festival of the Wind was the first major event for the town in some time, so it was a challenge to recruit the dozens of volunteers required to pull it off successfully.

“There were lots of organisations who were happy to help, but we needed to knock on doors to get as many people on board as possible to keep the costs down,” she said.

In the end, the festival committee recruited around 50 helpers and the first event was a huge success attracting 1,000 people.

“Everyone had their chest puffed out and the town was just buzzing,” she said.

“Locals were interested to see how we’d run it the second time around but we wanted to keep a similar format and have as much free activity as possible.

“One of the key things people said was that there is ‘nowhere to go with a family of five kids and not spend any money apart from lunch’. This is something that we definitely wanted to try to continue.”

By the second year, 1500 people had flocked to the Festival, with two thirds of the crowd from outside Elmhurst.

However, the committee had to go back to the drawing board to drum up support from sponsors and volunteers.

“The first year was such a success and everyone loved it and raved, but it didn’t have the flow-on effect we thought it would. We needed to persist and go back to knocking on doors for support. The recognition of what we were trying to achieve was better however.”

Jodie said securing funding for the second year was easier because the event offered something “a bit different.”

“It’s a good, old fashioned family day with a very unique theme. We don’t want it to get any bigger. We want to keep it manageable and just keep improving on what we’re learning along the way.”

The Festival of the Wind is one of several projects under the Elmhurst Community Action Plan (CAP) created by local residents. The Plan also considers improvements for the town’s streetscape, facilities, businesses and services.

For more information about the Festival of the Wind visit www.elmhurstfestival.com.au