Turning ideas into action: Merimbula Town Summit outlines priorities

Merimbula Town Summit facilitator Jo Kelly and Chamber of Commerce president Nigel Ayling review lists of priorities workshopped during the two-day event. Photo: Ben Smyth
Merimbula Town Summit facilitator Jo Kelly and Chamber of Commerce president Nigel Ayling review lists of priorities workshopped during the two-day event. Photo: Ben Smyth

An identity and increased focus on what makes the Merimbula "experience" special is key to future growth.

That's one of the outcomes of the inaugural town summit held on Friday and Saturday.

One hundred leading lights from a broad cross section of the business and community sectors spent Friday workshopping priorities and hearing from a range of speakers, before presenting the best ideas on Saturday to be distilled into a "top 10".

It was clear most people were on the same page when it came to Merimbula's priorities. Even more pleasingly for the town's future was the lengthy list of people keen to take the priority ideas forward into action.

The Merimbula Town Summit was coordinated by the Chamber of Commerce and its president Nigel Ayling.

It was reportedly the first of its kind in a regional centre across NSW since the devastation wrought by bushfires, COVID and border closures.

The two-day summit was facilitated by Jo Kelly, director of People, Place and Partnership, who said the engagement of the community as well as all three tiers of government in the event was "unprecedented".

Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick, Bega MP Andrew Constance and Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain were all guests speaker on the Friday, with Ms McBain returning on Saturday to hear the list of priorities.

"We also had 13 different government agencies represented, not just to hear from everyone, but to connect programs that exist to community priorities," Ms Kelly said.

"That was really valuable."

Resilience Commissioner Shane Fitsimmons also spoke to the gathering, as did chairman of the Mumbulla Foundation Michael Pryke.

"This is one step towards future ambitions [for Merimbula]," Ms Kelly said following the summit.

"It's a fantastic outcome from such a devastating time.

"You can see a new enthusiasm and energised people - that's what's exciting.

"They're here to be serious about getting active and helping deliver on the ideas. It's fantastic."

Nigel Ayling

Nigel Ayling

Looking to the future

A sense of identity and connecting to the lake foreshore were key priorities to come out of the Merimbula Town Summit on Saturday.

Consensus around the room helped develop a "top 10" list that, with some additional finessing, is designed to become an action plan for the community over the next 18 months or so.

Included on that list is developing a holistic identity and brand for Merimbula, which would then extend to signage to welcome people to town as well as direct them around it better; fostering an enhanced arts and culture scene, particularly with the development of Theatre Twyford forging ahead; encouraging youth employment opportunities and industries beyond hospitality; and linking in with neighbours Eden and Tathra with their mountain bike trail experience to market Merimbula as a regional hub for eco and adventure tourism.

There were also several more tangible projects highlighted including improved pathways and accessibility throughout town, and a shuttle bus or summer hop on-hop-off type service linking the airport and other key locations.

One idea that had the support of nearly everyone in the room was the redevelopment of the lake foreshore along Beach St, turning "the car park with the best spot in town" into accessible green space, playgrounds and barbecue areas.

"It's not all about the physical, but how a place looks, how a place feels, is key," summit facilitator Jo Kelly said.

"Merimbula's identity is pivotal to nail down in order to inform outcomes and priorities.

"There are lots of young new vibrant businesses and business owners - they're your future. How do we inspire them and support them?

"How are we letting people know we're here and who we are, what we do?"

All the priorities were also given estimated timeframes and potential costs were considered. There would also be the need to gauge the wider community's thoughts.

"It's great to say 'this is what businesses need to do' but there are only about four represented here today," Merimbula Chamber of Commerce president Nigel Ayling said, as the summit also saw tourism providers, business advisory organisations and community groups taking part.

"The only way is for you to take on leadership roles. Create an environment of leadership and create the demand.

"It's no good having 1000 great ideas but no-one willing to lead it."

As a result he was ecstatic to see the long list of names at the conclusion of the summit of people putting their hands up to be involved in delivering on the ideas, rather than just brainstorming around a table in Merimbula RSL.

Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain said there were "great opportunities" as well as plenty of grants to access once the ideas progressed towards action.

Another summit attendee put it well when he spoke up to say, "If we want to see Merimbula change, let's start talking positively".