Engaged University of the Year Award

University of the Sunshine Coast

Finalist of the Engaged University of the Year Award

"Connecting people, place and greenspace to create healthy, happy communities"

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Anchor institutions such as universities, community and government organisations maintain significant infrastructure and represent major employers and economic assets (Ehlenz 2018), and as such play an important role in facilitating decision-making that includes community aspirations and dialogue into policy-making processes. In this regard, it will be increasingly important for communities, governments and businesses to work together to encourage inclusive, socially cohesive and resilient communities to provide equitable access to basic services and social and economic opportunities (Taylor, Walton et al. 2017) in their shared community of place. In increasingly resource-limited institutions, strategic partnerships and collaborative approaches are a key element of strategy and governance at a range of scales. Healthy Towns is a Sunshine Coast born engagement project that showcases how the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) health promotion academics and students collaborate with regional stakeholders to support local community projects that positively impact the health and wellbeing of their communities and beyond. Healthy Towns recognises and awards work regional and rural community groups do to improve the health and happiness of their communities through the creation of connections. Eligible projects focus on inequity populations and build on the strengths and resources of participating towns. Annual awards are available in three categories: 1) Connections between People, Connections with Place, and; 3) Connections with Greenspace. There is also an Overall Health and Happiness Award which recognises projects that create connections across all three connections categories. The number of awards and recognition funds has increased annually as Healthy Towns has grown.

Key People

Ms Pattie Hudson
Chief Executive Officer
Central Queensland, Wide Bay, Sunshine Coast,  Primary Health Network (PHN), Australian Government, Queensland

Dr Jane Taylor
Associate Professor Public Health
School of Health and Sport Sciences,  University of the Sunshine Coast

Ms Nicole Cool
Senior Project Officer (former USC Health Promotion Graduate)
Central Queensland, Wide Bay, Sunshine Coast,  Primary Health Network (PHN), Australian Government, Queensland

Ms Cheryl Paterson
Community Development Officer
Noosa Council, Queensland (formally Sunshine Coast Council)

Dr Anne Roiko
Associate Professor Environmental Health
School of Medicine,  Griffith University, Queensland


We acknowledge the following for the significant contributions to Heathy Towns in a range of ways along the journey: • The 119 Healthy Towns Award applicants across the Sunshine Coast, Noosa and Gympie local government areas in Queensland, Australia who collectively make a significant voluntary contribution to the health and wellbeing of their local communities through creating connections between people, with their local community and with greenspace. • Noosa Regional Council, former Community Development Worker, Ms Kylie Finnigan • University of the Sunshine Coast, Director Office of Engagement, Dr Eva Marie Seeto • University of the Sunshine Coast, Public health academics and students • phn Central Queensland, Wide Bay, Sunshine Coast Manager Mr Rob Major and former employee Ms Jade Innes


Image 1: Healthy Towns Overview and Partners

Image 2: Healthy Towns Project Timeline

Image 3: Growing Healthy Towns

Image 4: 2016 Award Winners

Image 5: 2017 Award Winners

Image 6: 2018 Award Winners

Image 7: International Conference Presentation

Image 8: Healthy Towns Pilot Process Evaluation Report

Image 9: Healthy Towns Media Coverage



1-20191205 Healthy Towns Awards Welcome to Country

2-20191205 Healthy Towns Awards QWCA Palmwoods

3-20191205 Healthy Towns crown


Impacting lifes

Healthy Towns applicants are the “heroes”. The reach and contribution of work community organisations and volunteers do to support their communities to be connected is heartfelt. At the Healthy Towns Award Ceremony applicants share stories about the work they do, now, the most valued sharing and learning opportunity of the initiative. Contributing to local community and making a difference to the lives of others, particularly those most vulnerable without a place to call home, young people as our future and wise elders are all beneficiaries of this effort.

All Healthy Towns applicants are impactful within and outside their immediate communities. We showcase the 2019 Overall Health and Happiness Award winner, Palmwood’s branch of the Queensland Country Women’s Association (QCWA) as one example. From the 2019 QCWA video application, we - … provide affordable events and resources to connect our community; activities and support for people all ages, including frail aged and socially isolated; support women and communities while celebrating interests and forging friendships; contribute to programs that help local and remote communities in Australia and overseas; provide an affordable community venue used by 3000 people in 2019; volunteers contribute 3000+ hours each year to maintain the hall, gardens and run programs; share garden produce with community; run cooking workshops and events focusing on those socially isolated, traditional and celebratory community food events, healthy kids program, “common thread” intergenerational sewing program, small farms workshops; upcycle clothing for domestic violence support programs; taught the town to cook scones; run; help other groups with grant writing …


Lessons learned

Learnings and leadership advise for others embarking on a similar journey: • Commit to a vision – from humble beginnings great things can happen with vision, commitment and respectful engagement practice.

• Invest in planning - it took 12 months for the Healthy Towns Working Group to conceptualise and establish project foundations. Exploring collaborators assumptions about what was and was not possible, engagement best practice and tending to professional and organisational value tensions was key to planning discussion.

• Align to core strategic engagement and partnership priorities – for all partners, community engagement and partnership is core to advancing health and wellbeing of individuals and community. For USC, Priority 5 and 6 of the USC Strategic Plan speak directly to these important roles as a regional leader and anchor institution:

• Priority 5: USC will embrace and strengthen its role as a driver of capacity building.

• Priority 6: USC will strengthen engagement with its communities.

• Value relationships – authentic relationship between working group members has been key to sustained participation of collaborators and the integrity of Healthy Towns from a community engagement perspective.

• Add value – build on the great work that communities are already doing through reward and recognition by mobilising and sharing the resources for which you have agency.

•Embed into curriculum – integrate local community engagement activity into the curriculum to provide authentic learning opportunities for students and academics to contribute to local development.

• Lad from behind – be humble and act with grace when working with community to ensure respectful interactions respectful of local culture and context.


What's coming?

Healthy Towns collaborators vision is for Healthy Towns to be “grand” and implemented nationally in Australia and possibly beyond. The next step in reaching this vision is expansion of Healthy Towns to other Primary Health Network (lead organisation) regions within the state of Queensland. Duplicating the Healthy Towns model in these new more rural regions will road test the roll out process in preparation for scaling up to state and/or national level sooner than later. We have lots of work ahead and growing Healthy Towns will require working with many new local governments, and community groups and organisations, and in doing so expand networks and collaborative opportunities.

For USC, being a key collaborator in the journey to achieve the Healthy Towns vision enables us to develop our capacity as an engaged University in public health. Healthy Towns in the Sunshine Coast area will continue to provide teaching opportunities for health promotion students to develop their professional practice and community engagement competencies.

Healthy Towns in new geographical areas expands this opportunity for students and enables best practice communitybased health promotion knowledge to be shared for community health and wellbeing benefit. To date, engagement of health promotion students in Healthy Towns has led to fantastic employment outcomes which will be important to continue to nurture and maintain. With the Healthy Towns model established research opportunities that actively involve collaborators and community groups to qualify the nature and quantify and extent of connections between people, with place and greenspace are emerging.



Number of community organisations that have applied for a Healthy Towns Award


Total award funding granted


Number of graduates employed by Primary Health Network that worked on the Healthy Towns


Number of final year health promotion student capstone experiences


Number of core Healthy Towns Working group collaborators


Number of national / international Healthy Towns conference presentations

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