The recent lockdown has been a tough time for all Victorians, but the state’s first responders and their families have shouldered an extra load.
Keeping the broader community safe in these challenging times is something the rest of us perhaps struggle to fully appreciate – especially as we juggle our own pressures.
With public movement severely curtailed, the Fortem team in Victoria had to find another ways to connect with and support our first responder community, at a time where arguably, connection was most needed. Enter Fortem’s Deanna Norris and Julie Bellingham, whose lateral thinking provided an ingenious work-around.
Community Engagement Coordinator, Julie Bellingham, had been planning a family entertainment show as part of Thank a First Responder Day in West Gippsland. Many local SES, CFA, Fire & Rescue, ambulance and police personnel had been out tirelessly responding to flooding in the region, not to mention the Black Summer Bushfires and earlier COVID-19 lockdowns.
Julie saw an opportunity to expand the entertainment show idea beyond her Gippsland base and worked with Deanna to make it happen.
“We had already booked a comedian, Ben Price, to be part of the show and fortunately, Ben is well-known for hosting events via Zoom – so we thought ‘well why not take advantage of that?’”, Julie says.
“So we arranged for the comedy act to be made more broadly available via Zoom – so that anyone in Victoria could watch it.
“We were so lucky that Ben was so flexible with the changing situation, as well as being sympathetic to his audience as first responders – he worked the appreciation for first responders right into his act.”
Fortem’s Deanna Norris has plenty of praise for colleague Julie and her quick thinking under pressure.
“Julie really saved the day under what was a really challenging set of circumstances, with basically most of our public engagement cancelled by restrictions,” Deanna explains.
“On top of that, we had wild weather raging in the Dandenongs causing havoc in those communities, so it was also terrific that Ben was able to put on a comedy show, to try and give a sense of normalcy to first responders and their families.”
Ben Price – who describes himself as ‘Australia’s best impersonator’ distracted and delighted the audience by delivering an eclectic mix of impressions – from Homer Simpson to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some of the younger fans in the audience were particularly impressed when their specific requests were catered for.
“We had a request for Gru from ‘Despicable Me’, which Ben got absolutely spot on, and another one for Donkey from ‘Shrek’ – they both got a great reaction from the younger viewers,” Julie says.
“It was a very well-rounded performance though – there was plenty of content for the adults too – especially the Arnold and Donald Trump references.”
Deanna says ‘the pivot’ to a virtual event was perfectly timed, “In the end, I think we gave people an opportunity to forget about the things happening outside their house for a while and to connect with each other.”
“And that’s a big part of what we aim to do at Fortem everyday but especially on Thank a First Responder Day.”
“And it was a small way of recognising the efforts of first responders, who have been tirelessly at work for our community for a long time,” Julie adds.
Mental health resources for first responders and their families can be found in the Fortem Resource Library