Christmas dinner and a catch-up at the pub was just the start of an organisation's plan to improve mental health in rural communities across NSW.
Lion beverages hosted a special Christmas dinner on December 1 at the Armatree Hotel for locals, helping them reconnect after the challenges of 2021.
The event followed the success of its previous Beers for the Bush Christmas dinner it held at Armatree in 2018, and saw founder of Gotcha4Life Gus Worland as special guest host for the evening.
Lion beverages has partnered Gus Worland's mental fitness charity Gotcha4Life and will fund the regional rollout of its flagship Tomorrow Man, Tomorrow Woman and Man Anchor programs at country pubs and clubs across Australia.
The programs provide participants access to training and tools to help build mental fitness, equipping them with skills to start meaningful conversations and empower them to help others who might be struggling.
[Mental fitness] is incredibly important because it actually creates that awareness that you're not on this journey aloneArmatree Hotel owner Ash Walker
It will be rolled out to participating Lion venues and their teams, as well as their communities.
Owner of the Armatree Hotel, Ash Walker said they were thrilled to host the first event, and said after drought, COVID-19, a mouse plague and a wet harvest, the event was more important than ever.
"[Mental fitness] is incredibly important because it actually creates that awareness that you're not on this journey alone," he said.
"Its about building that relationship with your mates, that its very easy to have a conversation with someone, and whatever the problem is, it's about mates helping mates."
Mr Walker said about 25 people attended a mental fitness workshop in the afternoon, which helped the Gotcha4Life team create connections with the community, and kickstart meaningful conversations and empower participants to help others confidently and safely with mental health support.
In the evening about 200 people gathered at the pub for the Christmas dinner hosted by the organisations.
Mr Walker said a pub environment was a non-threatening space to host the workshops, and helped encourage people to meet up, socialise and start meaningful conversations.
"People can meet on neutral territory," the publican said.
"We did the training course in the beer garden, where there's plenty of room, and everyone just felt comfortable," he said.
The initiative is expected to roll out next year, and Mr Walker is encouraging communities to get on board with the programs.
"I would really encourage that whenever this training becomes available across regional towns next year that everyone gets on board," he said.
"I believe Gilgandra is going to be one of the first towns to roll it out, and we're going to be making every effort from here, with our connections, to make sure that actually happens."
Gotcha4Life founder Gus Worland, said the last few years of extended lockdowns and isolation, had been difficult for people, particularly in regional areas where people were isolated at the best of times.
"Life on the land is tough and we know that the suicide rate in the bush is higher, per capita, than in the cities," he said.
"That's why it's so important to re-connect people with their local communities and the pub is the perfect place to do this as it's a natural meeting place.
"Armatree is the key for everyone in this area."
In 2018 Lion commissioned and published a major study that looked at the psychological and social benefits of having a 'local'.
It showed that people who have a local bar, pub, hotel or club are more likely to be satisfied with their life, have broader friendship and support networks. People's level of happiness is directly linked to being social and interacting with others and the 'local' is a very important way for many people to meet and socialise.