The People

Image of Helen Sheil

Dr Helen Sheil

Helen Sheil is Director of the Centre for Rural Communities located at Monash University’s Gippsland Campus. A major area of her research has involved identification of strategies that facilitate the inclusion of local knowledge into public planning and policy development. This work has been developed into a model of collaborative engagement and a professional development manual and study circle kit offer tools to implement this approach.

Accreditation of her work by a major university at post-graduate level enables regional workers to access the resources of tertiary educational institutions and have peer and professional support as they become educators in their communities or workplace. Keeping this work on track towards sustainable futures is a significant challenge and Helen has developed subjective indicators congruent with the goal of enabling local knowledge be present in future planning.

Andrea Lane




Neil Smith

Neil Smith has worked with small towns for over twenty years from a broad range of sectors including consultancy, government and community organisations and from within health, youth, economic development and community development frameworks – but always as an advocate and practitioner of the interdependency of community and local economic development.

His work has always been grounded in the necessity of local ownership, regional networking, cooperative partnerships and the need for development and research to always begin within community.

deb foskey

Dr Deb Foskey

Deb Foskey has been involved in community campaigns for several decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, she was instrumental in the formation of several national parks protecting old growth forests through her work in the Concerned Residents of East Gippsland. She is a founding member of the Warm Corners Cooperative formed in 1978 at Cabanandra and still going strong. She was the first Coordinator of the Schoold Commission’s Disadvantaged Country Areas Program (Country Education Project) for Far East Gippsland in the late 1970s.

Living in Canberra from the mid 1980s until 2008, she was a teacher at secondary and tertiary levels. She studied Human Ecology and Politics, gaining a Masters for a thesis on community attempts to influence the planning of Canberra and a PhD for her research into the role of community movements in the framing of the Program of Action for the United Nations Conference on Population and Development, both at ANU.

Deb was a Member of the ACT Legislative Assembly from 2004 to 2008, and has a wide and deep knowledge of local, state and territory, federal and global politics.

Deb has returned to her home in Far East Gippsland to take up the challenge of creating sustainable communities at the local level. Firmly convinced that active, inclusive local communities are the key to the kind of change we need to weather the challenges of the next decades, she is working as a consultant to help organisations and communities develop strategies and processes to work effectively together. She is also available to conduct research across a range of areas.

Her recent work includes the writing of a Scoping Paper for the (NSW) South East Region Resource Recovery Organisation of Councils (SERRROC) for its new project, Sustaining our Towns. This looked at the challenges facing local governments and communities in developing a sustainability agenda and profiled the work of community organisations working towards sustainability in the region. A second project underway is writing a commissioned paper on Global Population in 2050 – what this means for a global sustainable future.