Is Evocities worth its weight?

It has always been a cultural theme within Australia to ditch the hustle and bustle of city living and start a new, relaxed life in the country where life moves at a slower pace.

A survey conducted by independent research group Senate SHJ suggests 64% of Australians have considered making the switch from city to country living, so why have not 64% of the population made the move?

Until now there have not been any immediate tangible benefits of moving to the west. Evocities is one idea currently trying to help some of the 64% commit to the move.

The Evocities Campaign was launched in 2010 by the NSW Government in an attempt to decongest Sydney by helping to encourage residents thinking about making the switch to the country.

Since the formation of the program, Evocities has come under scrutiny regarding its relevance and effectiveness within Australian society.

However, research conducted over the last year suggests the impact of the campaign on the rural communities involved is more than impressive.

The Evocities logo

The Evocities logo

Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Dubbo, Orange, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga are the seven rural areas part of the state’s relocation scheme.

The cities have pledged $60,000 a year to help Evocities move the population of Sydney further west.

While this is a daunting figure, the results from a recent study conducted by Senate SHJ shows, because of the Evocities campaign the economies of cities partaking in the project have been boosted by an average of $95,000 annually.

Evocities spokesperson James Treloar believed the boost to the rural economies are only going to get bigger in the future.

“By attracting above average income earners, we are increasing economic activity as these higher incomes are spent and flow through the economy,” he said.

He was also hopeful the campaign will positively affect the economies of the participating cities.

“Almost a quarter of new residents have started their own business, many of them start-ups, which may lead to further employment and population growth.”

Research institute Senate SHJ found cities participating in the Evocities projects had a boost to their economy.

Research institute Senate SHJ found cities participating in the Evocities project had a boost to their economy

Evocities is affecting more than just the economies of the seven cities, with almost two thirds of residents joining a community club, with around half joining a sporting club.

Mr Treloar believes Evocities has more than just an economic benefit to the communities.

“Evocities helps people start a new life in a new city, that means they are getting involved in the community, making new friends as well as buying a new home and starting a family,” he said.

One resident of Bathurst who made the switch from city to country living via the Evocities campaign in 2011 is Ellen Delbridge.

Mrs Delbridge originally resided in the inner west of Sydney in Concord. She is 32, married with no children and has been a graphic designer for almost 10 years.

She found out about the Evocities campaign through billboard advertising in Sydney and then later learnt more about the project online.

“It has just been so much easier than what we expected… The cash grant made a huge difference and the information Evocities provided us with about Bathurst was incredible,” Mrs Delbridge said.

The cash grant for people that sell their home in Sydney and relocate to one of the participating cities is $7,000 – not enough to buy a house but definitely enough to make a comfortable move.

Mrs Delbridge is still practicing graphic design and works mostly from home.

“It has always been a dream of mine to work from home, especially now that Andrew [my husband] and I are planning on starting a family.”

Mr and Mrs Delbridge had been considering the lifestyle change for a few years but never thought they would be able to commit to the reality of moving.

“We were paying off our mortgage slowly and thought we were going to be stuck in that house for at least 15 more years.

Evocities just gave us that boost to act on what we had been considering,” she said.

Mrs Delbridge said they plan on staying in Bathurst indefinitely.

“We are extremely happy here, Andrew has a new group of friends from work and I love that country air, you know? It just feels so clean up here,” she said.

The data represented in the ‘Evocities White Paper Report’ conducted by Senate SHJ suggests that over 82% of residents that moved to the rural cities have been happy with their overall experience in their new home.

Overall experience refers to areas such as employment, housing, education and social/community.

Mrs Delbridge did not take part of the survey but placed herself in the ‘exceeded expectations’ bracket after reading the document.

“Evocities has ticked all the boxes for me…  Finding a house was so easy and affordable compared to in Sydney so that is one aspect that I am really happy with,” Mrs Delbridge said.

But what about those residents that moved from Sydney to the west without the help of government grants and other benefits from the government?

Fiona Lewis moved to Bathurst in 1978, with her husband Greg, from the western suburbs of Sydney.

Back then there was no Evocities campaign and no real incentive to move to the western parts of NSW.

Mrs Lewis was a teacher and Mr Lewis was a mechanic and they were both able to set up a pretty comfortable life for themselves and their family.

“It took us a while to decide to make the move but I’m so glad we did in the end… It wasn’t too difficult to get set up; we had saved a bit of money and knew that there were job opportunities for us both here so we were pretty positive,” Mrs Lewis said.

The Lewis’ have had two children since moving to Bathurst, their youngest – Kieran – now owns and operates a pizza shop on George Street that is very popular among the locals.

They have heard about the Evocities program and both wished that it was around when they were considering moving out of Sydney.

“A young teacher I used to work with before I retired last year moved up here and claimed the benefits of Evocities.

She spoke so highly of it and she is still here now and has settled in quite well I think,” she said.

With Mrs Lewis’ story expressing the fact that it is possible to leave Sydney for a country lifestyle, does Evocities lose some of its impact?

Although the report from Senate SHJ suggests that 82% of new residents are happy with the Evocities campaign, what about the 18% that didn’t have their expectations met?

When asked about the 18% of people who expressed that the Evocities campaign did not meet their expectations, Mr Treloar was defiant in his opinion of the project.

“Evocities is a program in place that is there to help people achieve their dream of escaping the city,” he said.

“Although yes, there have been some cases where people have been disappointed with the services offered by Evocities, but we must remember it is only in its third year and we are, of course, trying to work out any kinks that might disappoint some people.”

He agreed that the 18% cannot be ignored but was extremely happy with the success of Evocities and highlighted that the project had just recently relocate its one thousandth resident which included 505 new households.

This suggests the campaign is proving to be a success.

“It would be a dream to satisfy 100% of our participants but if we are to be realistic; we have to recognise that it may not ever happen.

“At the moment we are extremely pleased with its [Evocities’] current progress and we will continue to try to better the program,” Mr Treloar said.

James-Treloar

James Treloar – Evocities Spokesperson

Although 1000 new residents have chosen Evocities to help them settle in to country cities, Albury has seen just over 50 new residents arrive.

An article in the local Albury paper – The Border Mail – argued all the cities are not getting the same return from their $60,000 annual investment.

Economic development director Tracey Squire believed the distance from Sydney to Albury was one contributing factor that has reduced the appeal of Albury.

“Albury is a whole lot further from Sydney than Bathurst or Orange… The further they are relocating often the longer it takes to make the decision to move,” she said.

Additionally, an article published in late 2012 by the Daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga reported some cities are benefiting more from the scheme than others.

“The program sees seven councils contribute $60,000 a year and almost $2 million in taxpayer funds… What if Wagga ratepayers are forking out $180,000 and Tamworth is getting all the perceived benefit from the program?”

The article went on: “It is, on face value, difficult to justify the large amounts of money beings spent to see 505 ‘households’ relocate to regional areas over a two-year period.”

The two articles are some of the only negative feedback found when researching the Evocities campaign but it is important it is not ignored.

There has been millions of dollars of funding contributed by the state and federal governments, as well as the local councils taking part in the program, and all in all, Evocities has shown it has had some impact on the rural communities.

Based on participant feedback and figures representing the economic impact of Evocities, is the investment worthwhile?

When this conundrum was posed to Mr Treloar of Evocities he backed the campaign.

“The Evocities system is generating huge amounts of money for the rural communities as well as encouraging Sydney-siders to make a decision that would benefit them and improve their quality of life, that is invaluable.”

Mrs Delbridge and Mrs Lewis are in support of the program, believing it needs to continue helping people commit to the change.

It is going to be interesting to see whether Evocities continues to grow and possibly make moving to the country a reality for many people stuck in the Sydney lifestyle.