The Barefoot Benefit committee, Robe, is providing initial funding for the implementation of the RCA Country Women Seniors Project in the town. This funding is an important first step in building the full funding base for this project.

Our Country Women Seniors Project is a community health initiative. It is directed to women in Limestone Coast communities who were born between approximately 1940 and 1966. We are focused on women in groups that are experiencing disadvantage: the voice of women in this cohort is often overlooked. Yet they have rich experience and knowledge which deserves to be heard. We have trialled a process of using personal narrative approaches to allow them to speak and be heard. Initial results have been encouraging, particularly for the mental health and well-being of the women themselves, which is the main focus of the project. Research on associated narrative approaches has confirmed these outcomes.

We have talked with service providers working with senior women in this district, and from other volunteers and community informants, including medical practitioners. They have confirmed that this important group of women are largely overlooked in both formal and informal programs. Where, in addition, there is disadvantage the barriers to communication and engagement are significant. Associated with this lack of agency are a range of physical and mental health impacts.

We are running this Project in three local districts. Our goal is to work with 50 country women seniors: 20 in Mount Gambier; 15 in Naracoorte; and 15 in Robe/Kingston. Most working sessions will be 1:1, with group sessions available if requested. The form of the sessions will be open interviews based on the established professional practice of personal narrative. Dr Sarah Mott, RCA Director , who is highly qualified and experienced in community health work, will be facilitating the conversations. These will be recorded, with the permission of participants. Ethical standards of professional work based on standard university models have been developed and applied to the design and implementation of the project.

Our trial interviews indicate that there can be significant benefits in mental health, physical well-being, self-worth, independence, and social linkages through this program. These are the main goals of the program. In addition, participants are encouraged to make their narratives more widely available. The release and form of this material (website, video, podcasts, poster display, etc) will be developed in discussion with each of the three groups.

This project was informed by this thoughtful book:

Telling Stories: The Use of Personal Narratives in the Social Sciences and History, Kindle Edition, by Mary Jo Maynes, Jennifer L. Pierce, and Barbara Laslett, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2012.