Following the devastation of bushfires, floods, and the pandemic, in 2021, a group of like-minded regional architects banded together to form a new, member-driven organisation with a focus on bringing about positive change in Australia’s regional areas. Thus, the Regional Architecture Association (RAA) was born; a network of regional practitioners supporting one another to collectively strengthen the practice of architecture, advocate for a better built environment and connect members to communities, industry and decision makers.
"The RAA connects practitioners with each other,” says Sarah Aldridge, RAA Committee Secretary. “But it's also important that we connect not just within our own profession, but further than that, into communities. And also upwards - we adopt an advocacy role, by identifying issues that will be pertinent to regional practice and then advocating on behalf of regional practitioners to decision makers.”
The organisation aims to be open and responsive to members' needs - and as a not-for-profit member organisation, is very much set up to do that. “We were keen to make a membership model that was really inclusive,” says Sarah. “Which is why we’re the Regional Architecture Association, not the Regional Architects Association - because we feel, as just mentioned, that architecture needs to reach beyond its own profession. And so, whilst we advocate for regional practice, we work very much in collaboration with others.”
Originally set-up in NSW, today RAA has members in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania, demonstrating the relevance of the work the association does – and highlighting the allure of its purpose-driven agenda.
The Association addresses significant issues affecting regional areas, and has a clear mandate to do so. “We took a while at the beginning to make sure that we agreed our policies and core values and incorporated them into our website, through our mission statement, for example,” says Sarah. “It's very important to us that the people who join as members understand what we're trying to do. And we found that's been really successful because the people who have joined share those values and understand what we're trying to do with the organisation. So it's meant that there's been a good momentum right from the beginning.”.
The RAA engages its membership and wider community through events which regularly attract between 50 and 90 people - despite the Association’s total membership only numbering 100 - a fact that Sarah says indicates the organisation’s appeal spreads far beyond its immediate reach. In addition to in-person events, the RAA runs frequent online events as a means of combatting the prohibitive distances its members would otherwise have to navigate. This serves to overcome one of their members’ most pressing issues: lack of connection to other industry people and businesses. But the Association deals with far more than that.
“This is why it’s so important for us to be agile as an organisation,” says Sarah. “There will be times where we’ll hear a few people saying, ‘Oh, we're really struggling with cost control at the moment, because the costs in the construction industry have gone mad,’ or, ‘we're really struggling with regional recruitment,’ or whatever the issue is. And we’re then able to respond quickly and pull together a session that assists them.”
The RAA was founded with a small number of ‘Founding Technical Members’ - industry partners who jumped on board early on because they saw the value of the RAA and held a shared belief in the importance of its mission. “Those founding members have helped us in many ways. They’ve provided finance, but they've also provided that genuine support to us right from the very beginning. And they’re not just random suppliers. They're people and businesses who we have good relationships with, that we felt really did align with RAA's core values, and who really understood what we were trying to do.”
One of these founding members was leading drainage designer and manufacturer, Stormtech. Headquartered in NSW’s Shoalhaven region, a few hours south of Sydney, Stormtech’s ethos of quality, sustainability, and locality, is very much in line with the collaborative values that the RAA is founded on.
“Stormtech has long demonstrated their commitment to regional Australian manufacturing,” says Sarah. “So, again, that's very much in line with what we're trying to do, which is to demonstrate viability and value in the regional economy, and also the benefits that it has, especially during times of global crisis. So, we felt that there was a natural synergy between what we were trying to do, and what Stormtech were already doing.”
Sarah adds that Stormtech’s origin story also resonated with RAA’s mission and core values. “It’s a family-run business that saw a need in the market and worked with the architectural profession to create a product to meet that need – that is very much in line with the qualities of agility and the collaboration that our organisation was founded on.”
Driven by these inclusive, dynamic and synergistic values, the RAA’s upward trajectory continues, with some exciting plans in store for the next phase of its development. “We've been going for around 18 months, so I think the next year for us is a year of consolidation,” says Sarah. “So consolidating events and activities, but also looking at our strategic direction and assessing where we can focus our energies around advocacy. We've got the support from the profession, but also our industry suppliers as well, so it feels like we're in a really strong position, and we're all pretty excited about what's coming next.”