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When an arsonist took away a community's showground its people rallied. Chris Sheedy reports.

Posted on : 18 February 2016

When an arsonist took away a community's showground its people rallied and, with the help of RAS Foundation, ensured it was brought back better than ever.

In mid-2014 the town of Young was dealt a blow that some felt would spell the end of its showground. Around a quarter of its main pavilion, including the kitchen that had been the showground's soul, was destroyed in an arson attack.

Previously a small committee had fundraised, utilising donations from individuals and small businesses, in order to build a pavilion that the town could be proud of. It was a site for many types of events, including weddings, auctions and shows. But the arsonist brought all of that to an end.

"It was devastating," says Bill Daly, Chairman of the Young Showground Trust. "But I remember speaking with a newspaper reporter the next day and I said we would never let adversity get us down. Something better should be built in its place."

And so Daly and his committee colleagues launched into planning mode. The team had heard about the RAS kitchen giveaway, so Show Secretary Pat Fletcher began the application process.

Little did they realise that RAS Foundation receives around 70 applications a year for the donation of the demo kitchen built annually for the Sydney Royal Easter Show. "The applications were incredibly competitive," says RAS Foundation Executive Officer Kate Ross. "Choosing one applicant is quite a heart-wrenching process."

The selection committee at the RAS Foundation, who have now given over $2.3 million in scholarship and grants to rural communities, soon contacted Daly and Fletcher to tell them they were in the final four.

"That was a seriously nerve-wracking moment," Daly smiles. "It was much better news when they told us the kitchen would be coming to Young."

With the help of numerous volunteers from Young, including a kitchen specialist from Daz-tan Kitchens, a full commercial kitchen was built. Ten months after the fire the pavilion rose from the ashes.

"The re-building process brought the entire community together," Daly says. "People could see we were trying to make a real difference and that drew them in."

Ross visited Young soon after the kitchen was completed and attended a dinner for 60 people, with all meals prepared and cooked in the new kitchen. She was stunned by what she witnessed.

"I find it hard to put into words just how grateful the people in this community were to be awarded the kitchen, and just how it has brought their community together," she says. "Through numerous working bees and a number of tradesmen and locals donating huge amounts of time, effort and expertise, they now have a fantastic community asset that they can use and enjoy. I was thrilled when one of the locals told me that the grant had 'completely reinvigorated the Show Society'."

There are now numerous weddings booked at the pavilion as well as auctions, animal exhibitions, pony club camps, golfing groups, dog shows and, of course, the Young Annual Show. There is also a high-tech surveillance system with cameras all over the grounds!

"People couldn’t believe what we managed to build after the fire," Daly says. "There is now so much demand we're having to create a formal website with its own booking system! The entire experience has been excellent for the town. It has created great community spirit."

Words: Chris Sheedy
Published: February 2016