Meet Tom Feinle-Bisset: Citizen of the Year 2016

After receiving his accolade on Australia Day 2016, we sat down for a chat with Adelaide Hills Council's Citizen of the Year 2016: Tom Feinle-Bisset.
Nominations for Citizen of the Year 2017 are now open. Click here for more information on how to nominate.

Tom is a Uraidla local of around 13 years whose commitment to a variety of community organisations and causes has been invaluable to the Adelaide Hills Council region.

Tell us a little about your work with Imagine Uraidla, the community group reinvigorating Uraidla and Summertown.

My connection with Imagine Uraidla really began back in 2013 talking to Ben Hopkins, who is also an award recipient (Ben won a Civic Award) and a real visionary. He was talking then about how there are a number of sporting groups and other community organisations that are very active and successful, and he had this vision of somehow coordinating all of these groups under one umbrella to work together, and I was so excited about that.

We knew that the main street was looking quite neglected and we felt a concern about the unfortunate reflection of the township, and the people of the township, that was far from the truth.

The first open meeting in 2014 drew well over 250 people, and their excitement, energy, interest and enthusiasm – the atmosphere was palpable – and the ideas that came out of there were just so exciting. It was a couple of months later that I joined the original three and took on the role as the interim Treasurer.

Since then we've been going from strength to strength and we're gathering momentum now.

You worked particularly on the set up of a Constitution for this group, have you worked on any other Constitutions for community groups? Can you explain why a Constitution is important for these causes?

My first experience with developing a constitution was six or seven years ago with the Stirling Market, where my wife and I were stallholders with Christina's Cakes. I took on the role of Public Officer and in that role did an update of the constitution. With that background it made sense for me to create something for Imagine Uraidla, and that document was approved in October of last year.

I've since been approached by the Uraidla and Summertown Show Society and they'd unearthed a little two-page constitution from 1948, so with the current legislation being newer than that, it was entirely irrelevant. That will be ratified soon. I'm now working on one for the Uraidla Netball Club, which was a little more recent at 1978, but still in need of an update!

Working with constitutions has given me a real recognition for the importance of these documents and the importance of keeping them relevant as circumstances change. On the surface it's a list of basic rules of the association, but it involves a lot of self-questioning about the association's objectives – what are we about, what do we really stand for, and what is our relationship within the community?

For most people a constitution is just a document you have to do, and once you've got it, it goes away to be forgotten about, but I do believe in this day and age it is important for volunteers and not-for-profits to operate as a legal identity, seek funding, and be respected as an organisation. If you're serious about your aims and your future as a group, it's just part of the passion of doing what you're doing.

When you accepted your award on Australia Day, you talked a little about the importance of volunteering in your local community. Can you share your thoughts on this with us here?

The reality today is it doesn't matter what size community you live in, without volunteers not a lot is going to happen! Unfortunately all levels of government are strapped for surplus money and grants are fiercely competed for, so it takes local people initiating action themselves to get the attention required for recognition or higher support.

If people see a need or an improvement that can be made in their community I recommend they put their hand up. The other side is once you do get involved in something it is a lot of fun, it's a huge source of satisfaction.

And yes, if anyone wants to come and talk to the Imagine Uraidla committee about our experience, we would be more than happy to welcome them for a chat.

Do you have any projects that you're working on now that you'd like to highlight for the community?

Imagine Uraidla is working on the final stages of the upgrade of the Main Street with banners and 12 new trees nearly ready to go. We're really looking forward to seeing it come together.

We also recently met with Mayor Spragg and Deputy Mayor Loveday, along with senior Council staff to discuss how we can consult further with the community on a couple of projects with a bold and inspirational theme. It's great to see how we can work together and benefit each other in this way.

Moving forward, we're also hoping to start implementing some semi-regular community events like movie nights, and embracing the surrounding districts like Basket Range, Carey Gully, Ashton and Norton Summit.

And of course I'll keep busy with our family business the Little Uraidla Bakehouse, which is a lot of fun with my wife and daughter.

Finally, what has been some of the highlights of your experiences in the Adelaide Hills community?

There are so many fun events and experiences with people who I volunteer with, but two key highlights for me would be Camp Anzac in 2015, and the recent Uraidla and Summertown Show.

Camp Anzac was the coming together of 12 different clubs, groups and organisations for one event, with over 200 people piling in to commemorate the Anzac Centenary, and also the upgrades to the Uraidla memorial. We all braved the weather outside, and the snoring inside, and woke for the first dawn service at the Uraidla district memorial in decades. It was a great event and a wonderful thing to be a part of.

The more recent one was the hugely successful Uraidla and Summertown Show and Sustainability Fair. At the end of the day I just remember listening to the live music and watching the fireworks as a sort of culmination of the day. It was phenomenal and showed the locals that wow, this is what can be achieved when everyone pulls together. It also gave us in Imagine Uraidla the confidence to keep progressing, because when you get people together with a bit of passion, the results are unlimited.

Tom Feinle-Bisset