2023 Vital Signs shows the pulse of Northern Rivers resilience and challenges

Lisa MachinImpact, News

We are thrilled to launch our 2023 Vital Signs Report – a rich snapshot of the resilience and vitality of the Northern Rivers region, alongside some of the challenges we face. 

In this 8-page report we delve into the data which tells the story of our region. Across the seven Local Government Areas of the Northern Rivers, this report highlights how we are tracking across four indicators of: 

Education and Employment: Thriving and resilient communities offer flexible, affordable opportunities for meaningful learning throughout life, providing pathways to meaningful employment. 

For those attending TAFE or vocational education The Northern Rivers (at 2.4%) is sitting around the same level as regional NSW (2.5%). For university attendance (at 2.3%) we are slightly lower than regional NSW (3%), and the number of people in our region holding a Bachelor’s degree or higher has risen dramatically by 5.8% from 2016 to 2021, now sitting at 18.6%. 

The Northern Rivers employment rate is 95%, a rise of 2.3% since 2016. Our region has more workers who classify as professional than it does those who classify as technician/trades or community or personal service workers. The report also shows that two in five people work in healthcare, retail trade or construction. 

Our hope is that this Vital Signs Report is used to have the conversations that need having, and to drive the change that our incredible community is capable of supporting. As our NRCF Deputy Chair and longstanding community advocate Lynda Dean says, “I have always believed that we need to create the community that we want to live in – that no joy or success has meaning if it isn’t shared with those around us.” 

Housing and Homelessness: Access to safe, affordable housing that meets the diverse needs of a community is a key measure of a successful and equitable community. Housing supply, rental and mortgage stress are key issues in our region. 

The flooding events hit our region hard, with 10,000 people displaced, 6,300 homes damaged and a staggering 1,800 people still living in temporary housing. It is also a tough outlook for renters, with rental prices climbing 6% in the 12 months from March 2022 to March 2023. Added to this, an alarming 43.4% of renters are experiencing mortgage stress – which is typically defined by a household spending more than 30% of their pre-tax income on rent. For those in the market to buy, house prices increased by only 0.2%, however unit prices soared by 23%. 

Two out of our seven Local Government Areas across the Northern Rivers are in the top 10 higher needs rankings: these are Byron at number one and Tweed at number seven. Those wanting to read deeper on this indicator can also view our Community Research: Housing and Homelessness in a Flood Recovery. 

Environment and Sustainability: Our economy, social connectivity and cultural identity are reliant upon the region’s natural resources. How we manage and protect these systems determines their sustainability and our own. 

This section of our report highlights an alarming spike in the number of days projected to be above 40 degrees Celsius in 2030, with a whopping 21% increase predicted. In good news, rooftop solar has increased and our recycling rate sits only just below the national average. 

It is dire news for our threatened animal species, as well as the Big Scrub Rainforest remnants, which remains at just 1%. In positive news on this front, the NRCF this year launched the Banyula Many Trees Fund, whose founders are aiming to regenerate and expand this ancient Big Scrub remnants. You can support this cause here. 

Healthy and Resilient Communities: Community connection, expression and participation builds a healthy and vibrant community, and is vital to people’s health, wellbeing and sense of place. 

The Northern Rivers is known for its connectedness, and 2023 Vital Signs showed our community spirit is high (83% agree). The report shows we are a region that attends community events, feels a part of the community and likes to feel engaged. However, as a region the Northern Rivers is experiencing challenges including higher than state average self-harm hospitalisations and domestic and family violence. 

As James Short, Director of local community organisation Business of Smiles observed, “You can see capital recovery and progress in buildings. You can’t see the mental health crisis and damage caused by this massive trauma. Some are finding it hard to put one foot in front of the other.” 

What’s next? What can you do? 

Vital Signs is a community check-up tool used by community foundations around the world to measure the vitality of a community and support action towards improving collective quality of life. It uses publicly available data and identifies significant trends in a range of areas critical to quality of life for community. 

This is our second consecutive Vital Signs Report as we continue our NRCF mission for evidence-based grant making supported by research. You can view and download the report on our Research Page here. We would like to thank Vasudhara Fund whose generosity made this research possible. 

We invite you to use this report to start conversations and engage more deeply in the important issues in your community. If you would like to contribute to the challenges in the Northern Rivers, you can view the positive action the NRCF is supporting and consider making a donation. Every little bit helps! 

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