Regional Australia's population grew by 1.1% last year.

How do communities survive during rapid social change?

Despite Sydney's population seeing an overall increase last year, the really interesting figure was the was negative when it came to internal migration. Despite international arrivals helping boost Australia's largest city by almost 90,000 people, there was a net loss of people moving to regional areas of 30,087.

As the job market took a big hit and those who kept their jobs worked from home interest in the regional lifestyle exploded. Why stay in a cramped inner city apartment when the same amount of money could buy you a freestanding house with garden just a couple of hours out of town?

Whilst for some the boom in house prices has generated a massive windfall, the influx of new residents, and the pushing out of other, longer term renters has had an impact on the demographics of areas such as the Byron Bay hinterland. There's also been a massive rise in land being subdivided for future developments with new residential developments popping up on the outskirts of popular towns across Australia.

These changes caused by a rapid change in the demographics of a town, with people working from home or dividing their time between a rural retreat and a city pad don't even take into consideration the impact COVID had on many community groups who were suddenly unable to meet or support each other.

However it's not all gloom. For some organisations, they've not only adapted to the changing demographics, they're thriving. The CWA had already started to turn around years of declining numbers before COVID hit - opening new branches to specifically cater to working women who wanted to meet in the evenings as well as branches based in major cities. For them the move was relatively seamless with one of the Tamworth branches going straight to online meetings as soon as COVID hit.

Additionally, for many who have made the move, part of the drive was the opportunity to become part of a tightknit community. Howard Porter and his family moved from Bondi to Dunoon, in order to take advantage of a new school that had opened in the region and to move to an area where their extended family could also afford to buy.

The drive to maintain those family and community ties are significantly important, especially for rural areas. According to a recent study the downside of all this working from home not only caused fractures in our networks but also saw a dramatic drop in the amount of me-time people have. Dr Michael Carr-Gregg flags that working from home and the isolation that comes with it is not an insignificant issue, with the need for people to take the time to meditate or exercise or have a coffee with friends an important part of our daily needs.

So whether it's joining a local sports team, regardless of if it's the footy team or the lawn bowls team it can be of benefit to both new and long term residents. Roy Elder who moved to Forbs for a major promotion during COVID at a time when he struggled to find permanent work in Sydney says as a young single man without the opportunities afforded to him by joining the local AFL team and RFS he would have struggled to build friendships.

For Roy, joining the RFS has not only offered the opportunity of friendship and community it's also given him the chance to fulfill a long held desire to join the organisation.

It seems that no matter the changing demographics of a town, clubs and community groups will continue to play an important role in creating the ties that bind.

This story How do communities survive during rapid social change? first appeared on The Canberra Times.