Showing hope after fires

Blue Mountains residents recovering from the October bushfires are showing amazing resilience, according to a support service helping them through the recovery process.

Step by Step Bushfire Support Service is a local service that assists people with information, support and links to recovery services and resources and is a partnership between Blue Mountains Gateway Family Services and the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services (MPES).   It is jointly funded by the Commonwealth and New South Wales governments.

According to Step by Step manager Anne Crestani:  “When we ask people that we meet... ‘how do you keep going?’ we get a real insight into the strengths and resilience that people are able to tap into  —within themselves, their families, neighbourhood, and community”.

Margaret Gogh sustained significant damage to her Mount Victoria home in the October fires.  She said her challenges have been an “everyday thing... temporary housing... sifting through the aftermath and all the while the native animals kept on coming in”.

Mrs Gogh is a carer who looks after sick and injured native wildlife which has helped to keep her focused — “much as having a family to care for... there is always the next meal to prepare”. 

 Vince and Marg Sibbald were at home when the fires destroyed their Winmalee home where they had lived for 42 years and raised their family.

“We’ve had each other to get through this,” said Mrs Sibbald.

The couple have also felt overwhelmed by the huge amount of support offered by the community around them.

“The love and support offered from the community has been wonderful, we’ve been offered so many places to stay since the fires, and people we don’t even know well have given us their numbers and said ‘call us if you need anything’,” said Mrs Sibbald.

The Sibbalds meet regularly with Eleanor Mann from Step by Step and have found it helpful to have someone listen to their experiences and talk through next steps.

“Life doesn’t begin and end with the fires, and we’ve been able to talk about everything here. Step by Step gives support that covers the whole lot.  And even if it doesn’t get fixed immediately, at least someone is listening, while we figure out what’s next,” said Mr Sibbald.

Step by Step support workers Faizah Kaye and Eleanor Mann said they are humbled and inspired on a daily basis by the resilience of the people they meet with.

Ms Crestani said, “there is still a long way to travel through the stages of recovery and people may feel that getting back on track is a ‘three steps forward six steps back’ process.  So it’s important for them to be armed with the right information at the right time and to have easier access to services that can help.

“Step by Step workers can walk alongside people as they take those next steps, whether it be making decisions about rebuilding, dealing with insurers, getting support with managing stress and stressed family relationships, legal and financial matters,” she said.

“In the Blue Mountains, we have a variety of wonderful health, community and school-based services that are here to support people over the long haul and Step by Step is here to link people with those services and supports”.

Step by Step is a mobile service with bases at Winmalee and Blackheath Neighbourhood Centres. People can contact Step by Step by calling 0474 229 845, email  stepbystep@gatewayfamilyservices.org.au or visit the Bushfire Information and Support Centre located at The Legacy Centre, Raymond Lane, Springwood.

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