Celebrating 10 Years of bringing good news to the Central West region

And just like that … 10 years have passed.

Editorial by Rich Evans

The very first edition of the Village Voice went to press on 4 March 2014. That very first issue was a labour of love and bringing it to the public was an achievement. I have often told the story about that first issue in speaking engagements, like how we focussed on making it as good as we possibly could, getting our very first advertiser on board who have since all become friends, renting a van and driving to Sydney to pick it up from the printers, then delivering it to every home we could in that first week.

When the answering machine was full of messages the following day of people complaining about the “trash” we were throwing on their driveway, I thought ‘What have we done?’

However we persisted and within that first few months, the messages changed to people complaining if they didn’t get their paper. That was refreshing.

Over the last 10 years we have seen some changes, we have weathered all manner of storms that have made business hard, but we have still persisted because the mission of this business was not to just create a business. It was to try and create a positive narrative for the community. Highlight the groups and people doing good things, help them get their messages out there and focus on what is great about this region and what is worth celebrating.

The last 10 years have seen massive shifts in the way people get their news, but we feel strongly that there is still a need for a free community newspaper, one that focuses on the positives in a community and try to do our best to look on the bright side. I have been called a pollyanna, a stooge, a sycophant and all manner of things over the last decade, but none of that matters because my own personal values remain true. I am here to do what I can while I can.

The Village Voice, now a fortnightly regional publication covers from Blackheath to Bathurst for distribution, and every single fortnight thousands of papers go out around our community which are all picked up by readers within 48 hours.

Our revenue is purely generated through advertising, and we often include significant free or discounted ads every publication. Giving back to our community is a huge part of why Kellie and I have continued through hard times in this business, we feel it makes things a little better.

There is now a brewing conversation of change in our region, something we have been contributing to for the past 10 years in our publication, and something I have also contributed to by rolling up my sleeves and doing what needs to be done.

One thing that I have seen lately, that I find concerning, is the rise of social media narrative about everything that is wrong with the world. This seems particularly strong in Lithgow, but is also seen in the Bathurst community. 

Rate rises have been a hot topic, and people fought to have them overturned. A ‘win’ for the community, but it comes at a cost. It meant a reduction in budget for media spend in the Bathurst region, which in turn affects our ability to continue to support the community with free ads and communications for good causes. We will however continue to do what we can while we can.

I for one, having a long commercial background in business, understand how rising costs and flatlining revenues over time become a huge issue. We have seen it with the rise in cost of printing since COVID, and we have done our best to keep our prices affordable for small business advertisers. It was Council, State and Federal government advertising that allowed us to do this. However most of the State and Federal advertising has gone digital, and now Councils are forced to cut budgets. There is always a cost to everything in life.

The bigger picture however is what our region looks like over the next 20 years. I have a glass half full view of the world, I admit that happily. I try to find what is good in a situation, not point out what is bad, because I firmly believe that there is so much opportunity for our region, that focussing on small insignificant negatives will see us left behind.

We need to be prepared for hard conversations, but we should all come to the table collaboratively and see where we can find common ground and explore every opportunity in great detail before we say that it is not for our region. More importantly it is time for people to stop thinking they have all the answers to the ‘problems’ we face without context.

When I first got to the region in 2012, I had a unique skillset, s different view and could see things I thought could be done better, but my first step was to ask how I could help. I did this for a few years before we decided to start the paper. I saw that as a way I could positively contribute to the region.

I then offered to help on every group and committee I could, some of these have lasted the entire time I have been here. I hope that in this community, despite what some people say and think, it would be evident that my focus is always on how can I help, using the resources I have at my disposal.

The business networking group started in 2014 with my friend Paul Phillips evolved eventually into the Lithgow Chamber. It has had it’s ups and downs, but the recently executed investor day bringing together a range of stakeholders for a first of its kind overview of the region and its opportunities would not have happened without the humble beginnings of the meet-up at the Tin Shed.

Ironfest is coming back to life, albeit somewhat altered, and as the previous President that over saw some of the most successful years of the festival, I am excited to see how we evolve in the coming years to a new festival with a bright future.

The Portland Art Show has a long and proud history and I am grateful the committee has allowed me the honour of being in the role of Chairperson over the last two years, and as many more as I can be of service, to continue that great organisation and event.

There are many more organisations I work with, from Pool Committees to STEAM focussed NFPs, and not the least of all, Regional Development Australia – Central West where I have been a board member for the last 3 years.

One project I did work on in collaboration with other talented and committed community members was the Transition Working Group Report * for Lithgow Council in 2020. It was the precursor to the LEEP project, and still remains a relevant and educational read today as it was 4 years ago. It paints a very positive picture of this region for post-mining economics. Interestingly, we were able to find a positive case for waste being a growth industry.

I tell you all of the above not to pat myself on the back, but to highlight that the proof is in the work. If you want to help the community, then help. Don’t feel you need a platform to do it from. Don’t broadcast it on social media, just do what needs to be done because it needs to be done and you can do it.

There is a great quote by the stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius:

Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.

Marcus Aurelius

I applaud anyone who wants to do something for this region I call home, but one very definite thing I have learnt over the last 10 years is that I will always be a blow in, and blow-ins need to prove themselves. Stop telling everyone what is wrong, because if it’s so bad, why did you come here?

Thank you to everyone who has supported us over the last 10 years, our readers, our advertisers, our contributors, our stockists and our team. Kellie and I are grateful for the opportunity this region has given us, and we could not think of anywhere else we would want to be.

Image: The Portland Art Exhibition was our first front page, and  Paul Toole MP was on that cover helping us promote the first issue, so it was great to be able to get a photo to celebrate with Paul.

* Search Council’s website for a copy of this report if you are interested in reading it.

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