The work Wauchope's BlazeAid crew has completed at bushfire ravaged properties across the Hastings valley has helped farmers not only rebuild damaged infrastructure, but also heal some of the mental anguish.

The work Wauchope's BlazeAid crew has completed at bushfire ravaged properties across the Hastings valley has helped farmers not only rebuild damaged infrastructure, but also heal some of the mental anguish.

Building fences and mending hearts, BlazeAid earns Royal honour

BlazeAid earns Royal honour with the prestigious Commonwealth Point of Light beacon award

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BlazeAid's work has received a special honour presented by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

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BlazeAid delivers so much more than new fences on fire-ravaged properties.

Their volunteer work is about helping to heal the wounds of trauma and strengthen local communities.

The volunteers at Wauchope's BlazeAid on the NSW mid-north coast are among the many thousands who have committed their time to the nationwide organisation. And that work has received a special honour presented by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

BlazeAid has been awarded the prestigious Commonwealth Point of Light beacon award for outstanding volunteerism, with a particular mention of their efforts since the devastating 2019 bushfires.

BlazeAid is the only Australian volunteer organisation to receive the award in 2020 from 52 Commonwealth countries worldwide.

Richard and Gere Stewart established the Wauchope BlazeAid team in January. The work they have completed at bushfire-ravaged properties across the Hastings valley has helped farmers not only rebuild damaged infrastructure, but also heal some of the mental anguish.

And they need your help.

The group has temporary volunteer hands with 14 backpackers from Italy, South Africa, England and Germany. The future of the crew depends on the support of locals, Richard says.

Their work is fully funded by donations and to date, they have rolled out more than $60,000 in fencing replacements to more than 48 of the 118 properties needing their help in regions including Yarras, Pappinbarra and Bellangry.

Volunteers get fed and if needed, can utilise temporary accommodation at BlazeAid's base at the Wauchope Showground.

Richard, who has embraced volunteering since retirement because he likes to "feel uselful", is humble when it comes to praise. He says their work is about ensuring communities work together to support each other.

"Every farmer has a story. When we first started I helped with assessing damage and meeting with farmers and getting to know them. What we found was that everybody was affected (by the bushfires) in some way," Richard said.

"There was nobody who escaped the impact of it. Even if a property didn't get burned out or suffer a bit of damage, everybody has been affected severely. Recovery is going to take a long while.

"What we do is not just about building fences, but also helping with the mental anguish."

BlazeAid works in collaboration with other support networks including the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Lifeline and the Department of Primary Industries.

"One of our farmers, when we turned up for work, had a sign in the driveway saying welcome BlazeAid and thank you. And on the way out there was another sign that said Love BlazeAid - building fences and mending lives.

"We see people struggling to get out of bed when we first meet them. Our teams put fences up and help them get back to an almost normal life - there's a lot of motivation.

"A lot of our workers talk to farmers and listen to their stories and work with them and help get them started again.

"It's farmers first, our crews and then fences."

If you would like to volunteer for BlazeAid, email blazeaid.wauchope@gmail.com or phone 0459 628 160.

Rhonda and Kevin Butler, who founded BlazeAid, are helped by over 1,000 volunteers every day, and have bases across the country.

"We started BlazeAid in Australia after the fatal Black Saturday fires in 2009, pledging to help - with local volunteers - a few dozen of our immediate neighbours to rebuild their burnt fencing over 14 days," the Butlers said.

"The idea caught on and in the ensuing 10 years, volunteers have poured in from all over Australia and the world to physically help others impacted by our country's yearly recurrence of fires, floods and cyclones.

"After almost 250 natural disasters, hundreds of thousands of volunteers, farmers, donors and local communities have teamed together to rebuild 14,000 kilometres of new fencing, 400,000 working days on 9000 devastated farms.

"The value of work done by BlazeAid volunteers who make such a difference to the lives of others - who have lost almost everything they hold dear - is in the hundreds of millions of dollars."

Vicki Treadell, British High Commissioner to Australia, who accepted the award on behalf of BlazeAid, commended the organisation for its important work.

"I am delighted to virtually present Kevin and Rhonda Butler with this award for their dedication and commitment to both their own community and other communities in Australia who have been impacted by natural disasters - including the recent devastating bushfires.

"They both demonstrate incredible commitment to BlazeAid; the volunteers they have recruited and the communities they support. They are making a significant impact on the lives of those that benefit from BlazeAid's work."

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