Numbers surge at tiny school with innovative program credited for rise

Tree Change: Lindsey Hudson pictured with her children Mia 3, Jai 7, and Makayla 6, moved to Errownbang from Sydney as part of the Rent-a Farm program
Tree Change: Lindsey Hudson pictured with her children Mia 3, Jai 7, and Makayla 6, moved to Errownbang from Sydney as part of the Rent-a Farm program

While most other small schools across the district are suffering falling enrolment numbers and the threat of losing their school, Errowanbang Public is defying the trend, having achieved a massive 300 per-cent growth in enrolment numbers in the space of just over a year.

As a result, for the first time in the school’s 58 year history, the services of a second teacher have been acquired and the entire community is thriving off a renewed interest in living in the bush.

The tripling of student numbers at the tiny school is due in large part to the success of the Errowanbang Rent-a-Farmhouse Program, an initiative that invites city-based families to move the country with the lure of cheap rent, fresh air and a quality education at a small school.

Gemma Green, Chair of the Errowanbang Rent-a-Farmhouse program, said the construction of a library and outdoor learning area under Building the Education revolution program, was what inspired her committee to launch the program.

“We thought it was great to be getting these new facilities but what was the point in having them if there was only a small number of students at the school to enjoy them?” she said.

Locals had also been watching the work of Cumnock resident, Christine Weston, who came up with the original Rent-a-Farm idea and implemented it hugely successfully in her home town.

“Essentially our needs were to fill vacant houses, owned by Cadia Valley Operations and private landholders, with community minded families whose primary aged children could support our school,” Mrs Green said.

Errowanbang’s own version of the pioneering Cumnock program, took off after Christine visited the local school to give a talk on her program in July 2009.

By November that year; the committee was formed, a website was developed and an open day was held.

“The idea of the open day was for families within the application process to come and meet and greet with school and community members, as well as have a look around at the houses available at that time,” Mrs Green said.

Over the next year an encouraging number of families applied for properties, mostly owned by Cadia Valley Operations, as part of the program.

Currently there are eight properties in the program, all of which are currently being leased by families who have relocated to Errowanbang.

Mrs Green said the program had received so much support from members of the schooling and local community.

“Also without the support of Cadia Valley we would not be in the position we now find ourselves in,” she said.

“We have also had a tremendous level of support in getting the program up and running from Christine at Cumnock.”

Mrs Green described the program as a win-win for all involved.

“The houses are leased at reduced rental rates that just don’t compare to what families pay in the city and once they move here their children attend our school – so the families benefit, the school benefits and the whole community grows as a result.”

“All of this has been achieved without being situated in a town or village… we are literally a school in a paddock,” she said.

At the beginning of the program in December 2009 – 13 students were enrolled at the school.

This year, an extra teacher is there along with 39 students.

The program continues to attract interest from near and afar.