Australian Mining Prospect Awards Winners: Community Interaction of the Year

For the development of its innovative program that has the mine's workers work­ing directly within the community, China Molybdenum's Northparkes operation has won the Community Interaction of the Year award.

The Northparkes Volunteer Leave Program, for which it has won the award, began in 2013 and since then has seen almost 130 employees volunteer their time to help a variety of community groups, schools, and organisations across more than 20 different projects.

"Mines are often criticised for taking skills from the local area – this program breaks that myth. We are able to show that mining actually brings skills and through this program we are able to share these skills with the community," Northparkes said.

"At Northparkes we consider ourselves to be part of the fabric of our community. It is not 'us' and 'them'; we believe we are one community and recognise we have an important role to play in this community."

According to the miner the program was developed after it decided "we were pulling all of the usual levers available to us in the form of community support – sponsorships, partnerships, scholarships, funding programs, and mentoring – but we wanted to do more".

The idea for the program was developed after Northparkes' managing director spoke to the local SES, exploring how the miner could provide assistance.

"Providing timely support to the SES is difficult due to our distance from town, but this conversation was enough for the Northparkes Leadership Team to identify the community's need and recognise we could help."

The first project of the program took place in May last year, at the Parkes PCYC, where the mine's electricians installed lighting throughout the facility, as well as energy efficient lighting over the basketball courts.

PCYC manager Amanda Sutton said the instllation of LED lights in the main hall has given them an overall saving of around 20 per cent on their power bills, as well as increased safety.

Other skilled volunteering includes business analysts helping the local Chamber of Commerce, IT professionals rebuilding laptops and computers for local community and sporting groups, sales and marketing advice for businesses, and skilled tradesmen providing services.

Since this project began 58 employees have volunteered their time in 2013, and in 2014 a further 70 people also participated in the program.

"We calculated that this represented an investment of approximately $1 million in to the community.

"This program is unique compared to other community programs in that it encourages employees to volunteer within work hours – or outside of work – and offers time in lieu if they give up their own time for a cause.

The miner added that "importantly, volunteering projects that are identified by the community and our employees need to either complement existing volunteering activities or ideally be quite different".

"We appreciate that employees will continue to volunteer, in their own time, to help community projects that they have a personal passion for; we are trying to complement this, not replace existing efforts. This ensures that wherever possible it is skilled labour and skills that being shared with the community; skills that are unique to Northparkes."

Speaking on the program, Parkes Shire Council's mayor Ken Keith said it has had "a wonderful impact as residents not only get to see Northparkes employees in their bright coloured uniforms out doing things in our community, but they're actually working with other voluntary groups such as Rotary, the SES, councils, and many more".

"All communities, particularly in regional NSW, rely on volunteerism, to make them work and function, through Northparkes' involvement with volunteering in our community, they help make our town of Parkes what it is today," he added.

In May this year the program reached Northparkes' 20 per cent uptake target for 2014. 

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