4 October 2022

Bringing people together the Jan Frikken way

| Zoe Cartwright
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Jan Frikken

Jan Frikken is making her mark on the South Coast community. Photo: Facebook.

Jan Frikken is adamant she’s not a good person – just a good pollinator.

At least, that’s what she says. If you pay attention to any of the Facebook community noticeboards for the South Coast region, you might have some doubts about the first half of her assessment.

Jan often posts seeking support for people in need, or needing people to support a good time (the good times are often for a good cause, too).

Offline, too, she rarely takes a break. Regulars in her Batemans Bay grocery store are used to Jan on the phone doing casework for vulnerable members of the community.

“Sometimes I feel I am being rude, but I think now people know what I do in the background, and they understand – and I always apologise,” she laughs.

“It doesn’t matter where I am, that theme of community capacity building is always in my head, that’s all it is.”

In 2016 Jan moved to Batemans Bay after a decade working in multicultural services in the Nowra region, helping new arrivals settle into Australia.

READ ALSO End of an era as Anne’s at Moruya serves last customers

She knew migrants and refugees settling in the regions faced very different challenges to those in the cities, with far less access to support.

“My focus was on social groups, because you can run them regardless of whether there’s funding or not,” she said.

“And when you live in a community you have to get things done regardless of whether you have funding.”

She opened her Batemans Bay grocery store thinking it would mean a change of pace, but she found she couldn’t stop herself lending a hand when it was needed.

“Supermarkets are often the first point of contact for new arrivals,” she said.

“There are limited services in the Eurobodalla, and the services that are here often have to refer, refer, refer and the situation never gets resolved, so I put a lot of my energy there.

“We didn’t want to replace services that already existed, but there’s such a shortage that we ended up doing a lot of casework and advocacy.

“Over time you get to know a lot of people and organisations, so in terms of connecting people it becomes easy, but we have had to be quite firm about our boundaries of what we can and can’t do.”

Jan said the issues new arrivals face have changed over time, but the biggest challenge is always isolation.

READ ALSO How a slow trip to the coast can help bushfire recovery

“Different types of visas have different issues – for example, without a permanent residency visa, you can’t go to TAFE to study English,” she said.

“So we started lessons here at the shop.

“That, and the Eurobodalla Multicultural Group help people to build connections in the community.

“It’s a very vulnerable position to be in, being a new arrival, so if people can build those relationships they have another person to lean on, especially if they’re having problems at home.”

When she’s not running her business or offering a warm welcome to new migrants, Jan enjoys the finer things in life – good food and good company.

Being Jan, she found a way to turn that to the benefit of the community as well.

She and Shilo Christie worked together to create “Hump Day Dinner”.

It’s a Wednesday night social evening, where a group of diners get together for a meal out.

Jan Frikken and friends

Jan with some of the Hump Day Dinner crew. Photo: Supplied.

The restaurant changes week-to-week, and so do some of the faces around the table.

It doesn’t just offer a night out for those who might otherwise be stuck at home – on a Wednesday night, and especially in the off-season, it offers a welcome boost to the local hospitality industry.

“Working in the shop you know there are so many people out there who will come in just to talk, and I have no time to talk because I’m working,” Jan said.

“So then where to?

“I said you can’t please everyone so let’s narrow it down to Batemans Bay and just restaurants.

“I thought it would be a good way to help both sides, but because I’m very straightforward, I said it has to suit me, so Wednesday night dinner it is.

“It’s quite amazing how it’s taken off.

“It’s a really diverse group, it’s community driven and it’s going to sustain itself – it’s already built friendships, people will go out for coffee together, share drinks, it’s quite beautiful.”

Jan is adamant that she’s only able to do the work she does because of the generous nature of the Eurobodalla community.

“The majority of people I see are beautiful, kind and caring,” she said.

“I always see people who are prepared to help. And since the bushfires, in many ways the community is much closer than it was before.”

If you’d love to hang out at one of Jan’s events – and who wouldn’t – but your Wednesday night is permanently booked, don’t fret.

Jan and the working group of the Eurobodalla Multicultural Group are holding their annual diversity night at Moruya RSL on 22 October.

“Again, I don’t know who’s going to be there, but a few of us have put our hands up,” Jan said.

“It’s going to be a family night, loud, messy, and full of food and dance.”

For more information, or to RSVP, email [email protected] – or check the community noticeboards.

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Shilo Christie2:17 pm 07 Jan 23

Great work Jan

Shilo Christie2:17 pm 07 Jan 23

Jan is a wonderful member of our community

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