Jennifer Westacott interview with Paul West, ABC South East NSW, ABC Radio

09 December 2022

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Paul West, ABC South East NSW, ABC Radio
Speakers: Paul West, host, ABC South East NSW; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive, Business Council of Australia
Topics: Opening of the Cobargo Innovation Hub; bushfire recovery; BizRebuild


Paul West, host, ABC South East NSW: The new innovation hub stands on the site of the former Co-op that burnt down during the black summer fires. To tell us about the opening. I'm joined on the line by Jennifer Westacott, the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, she's here to tell us all about it. G’day Jennifer.

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive, Business Council of Australia: G’day Paul how’re you going?

Paul: I’m going really well. Thanks so much for taking the time to have a chat.

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive, Business Council of Australia: You're very welcome.

Paul: Now, Jennifer, tell us a little bit about the journey that it's taken to get the innovation hub to its official opening this weekend?

Jennifer: It has taken a couple of years obviously, the fires ravaged Cobargo on New Year's Eve in 2019. It's taken us to tomorrow, to get the innovation hub going. We've contributed as BizRebuild, the project that hangs off the Business Council, about $880,000. The community has raised about $100,000. But most importantly, the project has created about 1800 hours of paid work for tradies in the community. Committee members have volunteered about 2000 hours of their time. So, it's really been a great community-business effort to get us to this point where we are tomorrow, where we open this this innovation hub and really continue the journey of recovery and rebuilding from the devastation of those fires in 2019/2020.

Paul: And what kind of role will the innovation hub play in the community, Jennifer?

Jennifer: Well, it's going to be an all-purpose hub. So it's basically going to be retail, but also people wanting to do innovative things. We're going to have Sally Wilson, who is a local artist there; Zoe Pook, a local Jeweller; Life’s Little Pleasures, a giftware shop; Robyn Williams, Ledlight by design. So it'll be a place where people can come together, do different things, whether it's art, whether it's retail, whether it’s wanting to get together in community spaces. The most important part of this BizRebuild is making sure that after these devastating local events, and we're going to have a lot more of these, that we don't lose the community. The community is really driven around what happens in town centres, what happens with local businesses. Our job is to make sure that we get the money into communities, to make sure that people keep the glue of the community going, which is local businesses, local artists, local communities getting together. So that's the role the hub will play. As of course, the work continues to restore what was taken away in those in those terrible fires.

Paul: And about the building itself, I believe it's quite a resilient piece of architecture?

Jennifer: It is, it's quite beautiful, actually. It will become a permanent feature of the town. But it's been done by an organisation called FormFlow. So it's using new products, new design methods, very sustainable building products. It's actually quite beautiful. And I think it will be quite a landmark and quite a tourist destination. I hope that people from around New South Wales will come and look and visit and not only see a beautiful building, but also see what it means to keep the community going and get a community working together and be a real gathering place for people. So that whilst we mourn the loss of what was taken away in those terrible fires, we kind of renew and we rebuild, and we get that sense of the community coming back.

Paul: How do you think people will be able to best interact with the hub, aside from the businesses that will be calling home?

Jennifer: Well, obviously, we do want people to interact with the hub in terms of coming in buying stuff and looking at stuff and buying people's art and buying their jewellery and things like that. So it's obviously very important, because that's the glue that holds communities together. But also, I hope, it's just people come and gather there. It's a place where people can meet and get together, have local functions, use it as a meeting and gathering place because that's really important. You know, when these town centres are devastated by these natural disasters. One of the things people tell me as I get out on the ground and talk to people is that they missed the sort of place where people got together even so just sort of walking up and down the street and just saying hello to their mates. It's really important that people come and have a look, but also they come and shop, and also they come and get together as a community.

Paul: Well, it's no doubt a great boom for the people of Cobargo to be officially opening the doors of the Cobargo Innovation Hub. Long may it stand and provide resilience and community for the people of Cobargo. Jennifer Westacott, thank you so much for your involvement in the project.

Jennifer: Thanks very much.

Paul: You're most welcome and for having a chat with us on Friday morning. You have a wonderful weekend, and we'll talk to you again in the future.

Jennifer: Terrific. Thanks so much.


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