Twenty-five years ago Premier Jeff Kennett took power in Victoria and with it he also took 90% of CERES’ funding.  Overnight teachers lost jobs, education programs were cut, a hard gloom descended over the park. After years of growing a living classroom from an old tip site, years of working bees, years of scraping funds together, years of building trust with schools, suddenly the boulder was back at the bottom of the mountain with less momentum than ever to get it rolling back up again. For a fledgling community group losing so much could have easily been the end. They’d given it a good shot, nobody could have blamed them if they walked away and got on with their lives……But they didn’t.

Instead, like a roomful of recovering alcoholics or cliche-hardened AFL footy players, the CERES members concluded that although what the government had done was brutal and unfair all they could do was focus on the things they could control. And through the gloom and the anger in that room somehow they saw it; somehow they saw it wasn’t the government or the lost money that made CERES.  CERES was the people sitting around them and it was people sitting around them who could save CERES.

What happened next set CERES on its course to this day.  The CERES members resolved that instead of relying on government money CERES would pay its way by providing education, plants and food for its community.  It created social businesses and ran them in a way that was as instructive as the environmental lessons taught to the ever-growing groups of school kids coming to the site.  It took many years but the social enterprises thrived, growing to provide 95% of CERES’ income today, employing over 150 people and supporting many other local businesses.

It’s often takes a terrible shock or some kind, a loss that brings us to our lowest, to our weakest, to the point that sparks us into the greatest change; the kind of surprising change that seems impossible even when we are at our strongest.  Last week, 25 years after Premier Jeff Kennett almost closed it down, CERES won the People’s Choice Award for the Premier’s Sustainability Awards. Power to the people.

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