Ballarat 2023 Australia Day Community Awards winners announced

Ballarat Tweed Ride founder and organiser Liana Skewes was named Ballarat Citizen of the Year for 2023 at the City of Ballarat Australia Day Community Awards on Wednesday night.

The Young Citizen of the Year and Community Event of the Year were also announced at the private ceremony at Ballarat Town Hall.

Citizen of the Year – Liana Skewes

A role model for aspiring creatives in the region, Liana Skewes is an accomplished actor, director and blogger. She holds a range of roles in community groups across Ballarat, including President of the Ballarat National Theatre and the Secretary of Spark Theatre. The podcast she directed – the highly successful Pride and Prejudice Podcast – was a Webby Award Honouree. Liana has continued to advocate for Ballarat via her blog Finding Femme.

Liana founded and continues to organise the award-winning Ballarat Tweed Ride event, which forms part of the annual Ballarat Heritage Festival. Her passion for cultivating space for people to find a sense of belonging and community – particularly individuals identifying as LGBTQIA+ – is evident in the atmosphere at Tweed Ride events. After the 2021 Tweed Ride, a spectator shared the event video on social media with the caption: “I loved this event and feel like I can attend next year as my true self.”

Young Citizen of the Year – Millie Collins

Millie Collins has been involved in more community groups and causes than a lot of people twice her age. In 2020 Millie organised 24 care packages for homeless youth. With her first project under her belt, Millie volunteered with the City of Ballarat to organise the 2021 Youth Awards, while also volunteering with other projects, including the Fabric Forest. She also volunteered with Uniting, facilitating the collection of more than 2,300 non-perishable food items for local families in Ballarat battling homelessness and crisis. Millie volunteers at the Delacombe Salvation Army thrift store.

Through the Western Bulldogs Leadership Program, Millie organised, designed and implemented an art installation at the skate park with the goal of removing social stigma around public and private schools in Ballarat. As an Orygen/Mission Australia youth representative, she also helped develop a youth strategy and spoke on behalf of fellow youth on the psychological impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns.

As part of the Ballarat Climate Action Group, Millie was involved in several climate action projects, workshops, strikes and rallies. She also participated in the ‘Sleeping Under the Stars’ fundraiser to raise funds for homelessness and organised a ‘sock drive’ where she collected donations of unopened socks and underwear to a local homeless shelter.

Millie also supports numerous young people through a mentoring program.

Community Event of the Year – Ballarat Neighbourhood Centre: Our Kitchen Social Enterprise’s Community Lunches

The Ballarat Neighbourhood Centre’s community lunches attract 100-plus community members each week. Held on Fridays during the school term, the much-loved luncheon event has reciprocal community impacts throughout each stage of its preparation and delivery.

The luncheons are run by a large cohort of volunteers. They are a diverse and eclectic bunch of people who volunteer for varying reasons, such as giving back to their community, meeting new people, overcoming mental health problems, finding work or improving their English. The food being served is prepared throughout the week by teams of adult learners. The ingredients have either been rescued via the Second Bite program – around 150kg of food from local supermarkets that would have otherwise gone to waste – donated by community groups or grown in the Ballarat Neighbourhood Centre gardens by volunteers.

The community lunches seek to address isolation, disengagement, food insecurity and social anxiety. They encourage participation and connection, provide food access and expose attendees to a raft of additional supports available at the Ballarat Neighbourhood Centre.

Recognising outstanding community members

City of Ballarat Mayor Cr Des Hudson said the Community Awards represented an opportunity to honour community members who are making a difference in the region who often went unseen.

“I wish to congratulate Liana Skewes, Millie Collins and all the volunteers involved in Ballarat Neighbourhood Centre’s community lunches – their contributions, as well as that of all the nominees, is what makes our community truly great.”

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