REGIONAL towns across the country are spruiking their benefits after a surge in city dwellers seeking a tree change during the pandemic.
Belinda Banister and her family are a case in point.
She provides some tips for those considering a similar move.
Enrolling at schools
Education is a deal-breaker for many families mulling a tree change.
When Belinda and her daughters, Sophie and Isabella, left Newcastle for the NSW regional city of Armidale in April last year, they had already visited their preferred destination and spent time checking out the local schools.
"In the January we visited Armidale, so my girls could compete in the regional country swim meet," Belinda says.
Already Belinda was seeking a more relaxed lifestyle and her goal was to combine that with good schools for Isabella and Sophie, who were continuing their studies.
"The minute we stepped into The Armidale School [an independent, co-educational Anglican school], our minds were made up," Belinda says. Many regional towns and cities have boarding schools, usually to accommodate children of rural producers.
But all rural centres are serviced by good public schools, so there is choice available when it comes to education.
As a single mum, Belinda had to ensure her family's tree change could be supported with a steady source of employment.
Armidale has NBN to the door and that has attracted many small businesses, especially IT start-ups, to the city.
Belinda owns her business, Hunter Loans, a boutique finance brokerage service which she runs from home.
"I'm very lucky that my finance business can be operated remotely, and establishing a country office has supported growth within the business and established friendships with clients too," Belinda says. As more people work from home during and post the COVID-19 lockdown, a tree change is more desirable and achievable.
Skilled tradies are also needed in many country towns, many of which are attracting retirees and need "greenfield constructions", such as retirement villages.
The Hunters faced some health issues in 2018, so had already started the psychological process of moving away from the city.
"Armidale ticked all our boxes ... great education, airport, hospital, infrastructure, university, lifestyle, and SPACE," Belinda says.
While the Hunters made the move before the covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown allowed the family to slow down and appreciate what they had.
While Armidale's retail sector is struggling (along with many other cities and towns), it has excellent services. The hospital has just been given a $60 million redevelopment, while there is a university and airport.
Above all, Belinda says, "We have been blown away with the kindness and generosity of the people".
"People have time here that they very generously give, which is very different to the city." Belinda says other families who may be seeking a change from city life should "challenge their thinking and look at their options".