By Taylah Eastwell
Owner of The Patch Store, Natalie Collins was recently commended with an Australia Day Community Service Award for “giving The Patch community a heart” and providing a happy and safe central meeting place for locals.
Ms Collins work extends well-beyond running the local store, with the Rotary Club of Monbulk and District recognising her work in creating a local community hub in The Patch where everyone feels welcome.
Ms Collins said she was “baffled” when she first heard the news that she had received the award.
“We bought the store in January 2014 and have now just completed our seventh year. We built it up from a little store that had takeaway milk and bread and have grown it into this little community hub that it is today,” she said.
Monbulk and District Rotary commended Ms Collins for “giving the village a village centre”, and creating a warm town centre where laughter “permeates the building and spills outside”.
“We just care. We engage with our customers because they are our lifeline and we know that everybody likes to have a happy and smiley face talking to them. We know their names, people just run into each other in the store and that gives it a different vibe as well,” Ms Collins said.
“The Patch is a pretty big area, you don’t get to see your neighbours that readily so people run into each other down here and have a coffee or see each other while they’re posting a letter and it all turns into this little community that everyone talks about which is lovely, it’s nice coming to work each day,” she said.
Ms Collins has developed unique insight into the needs of residents and regulars to the store and always helps with referrals to local businesses and trades.
“Because I have been able to engage with most people I have a lot of contacts and have been able to put people onto each other in the local community. People move to the area and ask if you know someone who does carpet laying or a plumber or electrician so it’s great to be able to connect people,” she said.
She has also connected people to others in the community for friendship, provides supportive employment for 15 staff and maintained that employment for young locals during Covid-19 lockdowns.
“We had a small amount of cut backs but mostly shared the shifts around between everybody,” she said.
During lockdown, Ms Collins and the team at The Patch Store also provided “little care packages” to brighten peoples days.
“Because we were within the 5km zone and could do deliveries, we did care packages for people’s birthdays and little things for Mothers and Fathers Day. That was really lovely and allowed people to feel like they had touched their parent on those days when they couldn’t in person because they were off the mountain,” she said.
The Monbulk and District Rotary said in a statement that Ms Collins is “a positive role model and has a wonderful way with people” and commended her for creating “a bright, smiling community hub” for The Patch.