IT ALL started with a simple question.
Ellenore Stokes can’t quite remember exactly what she typed into her internet browser, but it was along the lines of where the best place for a group was to get their hair or nails done in Kalgoorlie.
“My best friend was getting married and I was trying to find recommendations on local businesses,” Ellenore said.
“I thought I’d be able to find some by searching on Facebook, but there was nothing really there.”
This sparked Ellenore’s interest, and she embarked on a wider search, and found a Perth-based Facebook page called ‘Help a Sister Out’, along with a number of similar pages throughout Australia and internationally.
The pages were based around women looking for advice or sharing information on a whole range of things, whether it be places to go or businesses to visit.
“I thought wow, what a great platform,” she said.
“Living in WA can be quite isolating, but to have a page like that relevant to your local area could help build more of a community feel.”
Ellenore said the vast majority of people living in the major Goldfields city where she had spent her entire life, could be divided into two categories - those who were born and bred there, and those who were young singles, couples or families and had moved into the area.
“It’s a classic story, those people who decide to come here for three years and 10 years later are still here - that’s exactly what happened with my parents,” she said.
So the qualified graphic designer started the Help a Sister Out Goldfields-Esperance private Facebook page on July 5, 2017, with the intention of creating an information-sharing forum for local women.
Without giving it too much thought, she predicted a maximum of 800 followers if the concept caught the locals.
Within the first week the page had already surpassed that with 1000 members.
Never did Ellenore expect it to reach its almost 5000 followers from Kalgoorlie and surrounding towns including Coolgardie and Kambalda in just 18 months.
“It’s really awesome, and it’s grown organically, I haven’t really had to do anything,” she said.
“I think that has a lot to do with the fact that in Kalgoorlie everyone knows everyone, and it seems to have spread quickly through word of mouth.”
The speed at which membership of the page occurred over the first 12 months meant it started to take over Ellenore’s life.
She didn’t want to start it and then leave it to flounder- she wanted to maintain the page and keep an active group, as well as monitoring its content closely.
But the rate at which people were joining meant she was constantly approving new members, as well as approving posts.
“The first six months it was high on the radar, and I was also running my own business at the time
“I was working 70-80 hours a week as well as maintaining the Facebook page, and it all became a bit too much.
So Ellenore sought help from some of her most trusted friends to help her run the page.
“I was picky about who I asked to help me, as I wanted to know that I could trust whoever was approving posts as some are quite sensitive in their subject matter, and also accepting new members,” she said.
There is now a group of six administrators for the page, as Ellenore worked out they needed one person per every 800 or 900 people.
The page has always been closed, and Ellenore believes that is one of the reasons why it has worked so well.
“There are a lot of things that people want to know, and the bulk of the posts are asking for advice such as who is the best local female doctor, or where they can go for a bikini wax or get their nails done, or where they can find cake toppers,” she said.
“But because we’ve been able to create a safe environment, there have also been people posting about relationship issues, such as how to deal with partners who have drug or alcohol issues.
In some circumstances there have been women, who if cleared by Ellenore to post anonymously, have been seeking to escape domestic violence.
“We aren’t psychologists or councillors or social workers, but if we are able to help in some way then we do,” she said.
Ellenore said this related to a post about every two months, although she acknowledged that for each woman who sought help, it was likely there were lots more who weren’t.
But for those women who did post looking for help, she tried to help them as quickly as possible.
“For someone to come to a Facebook page and ask for help, whether it was for somewhere safe to go, or food, or money for bills, the chances are they’ve tried everything else possible and this is their last resort,” she said.
“So we drop everything and do as much as we can to relieve as much stress as possible.”
While many 21-year-olds these days criticised for being self-centred and oblivious to the world around them, Ellenore is an articulate, impressive young lady with an equally impressive social conscience.
She credits her mother for encouraging herself and her three older brothers to think of other people from a very young age.
“We were home schooled, and our mum would take us to nursing homes, where we would tend to the gardens of residents, as well as spending time with them watching television or playing cards,” Ellenore said.
“We also went on 12 or 13 mission trips overseas.
“We were raised that way - to not be selfish or self centred.”
Ellenore said she was really pleased that so many people had seen the page as a useful tool.
“Its been really cool that they value the page and see it as being helpful,” she said.
“And every time I’ve thought we’ve reached our limit, we have more requests to join the group.”
They received between five and 10 requests from potential new members every day, but they didn’t approve all of them.
Members had to live in the Goldfields, or at least reside there for a majority of their time, as well as obviously being female.
Businesses were not allowed, as the page was not a commercial vessel for plugging their own products or events.
And above all, Ellenore said members had to be nice or leave, and if posts were inappropriate they would be removed.
She encouraged anyone who may consider starting up a similar page to give it a go.
“It’s not that hard to start a group for their own community - they should just do it,” she said.
“Anyone can do it, it’s not rocket science, and there’s so much information online on how to nail a Facebook group.
“And these sorts of groups work really well for regional centres in helping bring people and information together.”