ARTIST and passionate Clunes resident Tom Ripon quips being a loud voice in a country town helps drive his volunteer work. Just as importantly, he said, was knowing how to harness residents' big ideas into what they can achieve with what they do best.
Mr Ripon, who lived in suburban Melbourne for a long time, loves trying to build on "beautiful resources" in Clunes and transforming previously beloved spaces back to life. His efforts can be found from the town's dog park to an art space in Clunes Neighbourhood House where he helps foster creativity in young people.
Mr Ripon is among a growing trend bucking the national average with men and youth predominantly leading volunteerism at Clunes Neighbourhood House. Men make up more than 50 per cent of the community organisation's volunteer base but Clunes Neighbourhood House manager Lana de Kort said advocacy program helped spark greater youth involvement.
Ms de Kort said a strong focus on diversity in leadership helped reach a wider cross-section of the community and made for a more inclusive environment.
"Nearly half of our leadership team are in their 30's," Ms de Kort said. "From the top-down it's evident that we are serious about diversity and involving all people in our decision making - and we are a richer organisation as a result. "
For Mr Ripon, a key part of promoting volunteerism, was listening to people and helping them feel involved, from partnering with other community groups to seeking individual feedback.
"Christmas in Clunes is a great example," Mr Ripon said. "Initial meetings were like making a 'Disney-town' but the essence was in there.
We got back to the Clunes parade - knowing that you're starting to do something where there's a lot of memories made a difference.
Mr Ripon said he first got involved in volunteering when he had thought the neighbourhood house was being torn down, instead finding it was to be re-skinned. He loved the potential in the place after a tour.
This was the start of a hub to re-launch a youth space and a bike fix-it group. Mr Ripon also volunteers as an artist for the Civic Kids program in what he hoped inspired children to see what was possible from starting with a seemingly simple idea.
For more on Clunes Neighbour House, visit clunesnh.org.
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