We’re taking some time to reflect on the anniversary of the tragic Lismore flood event in 2022. This unprecedented event had major impact on neighbourhoods, businesses and families throughout the Northern Rivers. We sat down with ACE CEO Kerry Johnson and Operations Manager Erin Hutchinson to talk on how things have progressed, one year on.
KJ: “I think it’s safe to say that we were all devastated with the flooding that happened in our region. Our College was completely flooded with both levels gone. We lost everything in the building. The flood levels were over 3 metres higher than the flood in 2017 which caused enormous disruption to our way of life in Lismore. It’s as if our town had just disappeared.”
EH: “As a local girl, to watch the town you were born in be completely devastated was just heartbreaking. One year on, you can still see the scars from that day, and the healing has been slow.”
Can you tell us a bit more about how ACE coped in these trying times?
EH: “As a business, we were one of the more fortunate ones to have the resources to try and return in some capacity after the flood. The first two weeks were really for clearing and healing, but we did what we could to support both staff and students alike in such a unique circumstance. A few months on we found ways to work well from home, with the staff being the key focus at that point in time, working on plans to support our current students as well as look to new intakes. By Mid-year, new technology could be delivered to staff to make their working from home a little more bearable, with meetings to see each other face to face as often as we could.”
KJ: “We were very fortunate to have made changes to our business after the 2017 flood which included purchasing a learning management system which allowed us to have all of our resources online, eliminating the need for reams of paper and textbooks. It also meant that students were able to access all of their materials and interact with their trainers in a blended training delivery model. This model of delivery was brought in during the COVID lockdowns and was again instituted for our Lismore students after the flood. We are also very thankful to our Burleigh Waters campus staff for going the extra mile, stepping in with the workload, until our Lismore staff were able to work from home fully.”
EH: “Significantly, by June 2022, we had secured a new location and said goodbye to our Magellan Street HQ with a heavy heart. In August construction was underway in our new location and we finally were able to move back into our new permanent location in Molesworth Street on 7 November 2022. Although we were disconnected, and isolated, our incredible staff were able to continue to support pre-COVID numbers of students without a fixed location. This was truly amazing.”
How are things progressing in 2023?
KJ: “The town is slowly coming back to life. There are still many vacant shops in the main CBD block and some of those businesses will never return and I understand their decisions to leave. For ACE Community Colleges, Lismore was our original home and for us to abandon the town was unthinkable.
ACE has been able to relocate to a new building around the block from our old “work home” of over 20 years. We are on the fourth floor and ground floor of the Westlawn Building so at least part of our business will never flood again. We have had new opportunities open up to us and we are really happy to be back together again with our workmates and being back in the CBD.”
EH: “And we have secured another location in the CBD to convert to a “Learning Centre” given we are already at capacity in our new premises, a great problem to have!”
KJ: “As an organisation I think we are very resilient and patient and understanding of how individuals and communities work through major disruptions to their way of life. We know that when terrible things happen, we can continue to exist and assist the communities that we work in, to find their pathways through education and training.”
EH: “It is wonderful to see the town gradually start to come back to life, with both old and new businesses alike returning. 28 February 2022 will always be a sad day in the history of ACE and Lismore, but we have shown we are resilient, strong and flexible enough to continue to engage students to inspire lives and change futures. I am very proud to be the Business Operations Manager of such a wonderful not for profit organisation who truly help so many and in awe of our workforce. Here is to a much brighter and drier future for ACE!”