Sustaining rural communities – A case study of the benefits of charity retail outlets in rural Tasmania

S Auckland1,J Woodroffe J2,A King3 ,S Whetton4

1 Centre for Rural Health, Locked Bag 1322, Launceston, Tas 7250, Stuart.Auckland@utas.edu.au
2 Division of the DVC, Access, Partnerships and Participation, University of Tasmania, Locked Bag 1351, Launceston Tas 7250, Jessica.Whelan@utas.edu.au
3 Centre for Rural Health, Locked Bag 1322, Launceston, Tas 7250, Alexandra.King@utas.edu.au
Centre for Rural Health, Locked Bag 1322, Launceston, Tas 7250, Sue.whetton@utas.edu.au

Background

Charity retail outlets play an important role in rural communities as advocates for disadvantaged communities, outlets for second hand goods and service provision. Little is known about the broader social and economic value that the outlets bring to their host communities. The Centre for Rural Health in Tasmania was commissioned by the St Vincent De Paul Society (Vinnies) to undertake an assessment of its network of 34 retail outlets.

Methods

A mixed method approach generated data about Vinnies retail outlet customer base, their expectations and experiences as well as their shopping habits.  Customers were encouraged by outlet staff to complete surveys made available to them at each of the 34 outlets.  A series of focus groups with customers were held in regional centres across Tasmania.

Results

A total of 664 surveys were completed, representing an overall response rate of 50.3%. Approximately 75% of respondents were female aged between 45 – 64 years. Over 60% of respondents visited an outlet once a week or more.   The most common reason given for visiting an outlet was shopping or looking to “grab a bargain.” Opportunities for social interactions was highly valued particularly with customers accessing outlets in smaller rural communities.

Discussion

Vinnies retail outlets are overwhelming viewed as having broader social and economic benefits to their host communities.  In particular, these benefits were evidenced in smaller communities where outlets were valued for providing a space for social interaction, making affordable goods to people on low incomes and building the capacity of communities.

Biography

Stuart Auckland has extensive experience in rural community development, having previously worked as project manager/researcher in a diverse range of rural community development projects. Stuart’s initial employment was in the area of natural resource management/Landcare prior to moving to rural health in 2000. He is currently the Coordinator of the Community Health Development program area at the Centre for Rural Health at the University of Tasmania. His current interests include food security, population health, farmer family health, rural community development and social impact assessment.