Would you like to know how your organisation is perceived in your community?

Then you may like to try the rolling lunch the Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship (ACRE) and the Old Beechworth Gaol introduced in 2018.

ACRE is based at the Gaol and CEO Matt Pfahlert was a key organiser in the community buy-back of the Gaol in 2016. There are plans to develop the Gaol as a cycling hub and thriving historical precinct for all to enjoy.

There has been some community resistance.

Matt said they started by inviting 10 people to join them for a one-hour lunch. Those invited represented a cross-section of the community.

“To the initial lunch we invited people who we knew weren’t great supporters of what we are doing, some that were ambivalent and some that were very engaged. There’s only one rule in accepting the invitation; after the lunch, you nominate the next person we invite. This ensures our opportunity to engage continues to spread,” Matt said.

The lunch starts with a 10 minute presentation about what ACRE is doing and then the group has an open discussion.

“We encourage them to be frank; tell us what gripes they have about what we are doing and how they see us. We find that others in the group step in to put our point of view across and there’s not much more for us to explain.

“It’s been really informative. We found there’s a perception out there that we get support from many sources, for example council. People think we are getting a free-kick and are annoyed about it. When we explained that we haven’t had any support from council and they are slow to respond to us, people see that we are on a level playing field. Often, they relate to our experience because at least one person in the room is having the same happen to them.

“It’s definitely eased tension with some people and led to a better understanding of our plans with many others.”

The lunches enable ACRE to collect feedback, understand misconceptions and then use this to inform their communication to the community more generally. It is also building relationships and lunch guests are then sharing the new information they have.

The idea came from the Bendigo Gaol.