Begun in 2011, the ZEST Awards celebrate and promote life in Western Sydney and the great things being done by community service sector organisations and volunteers.

The impetus came from a growing awareness in the community sector that it was the image of Western Sydney itself that was holding back the region. This was highlighted in a forum in 2010, Stronger Voice for Western Sydney, a partnership between the Western Sydney Community Forum, WESTIR and TRI Community Exchange. A key aim that emerged from this was to challenge the negative media focus on the region and instead work to promote the innovative, creative work being done.

With previous experience running a community awards program for local government Nancy Nicholson, Operations Manager at the Western Sydney Community Forum initiated the idea of an annual awards presentation that could showcase the positive work being done by the community sector.

With some early supporting and funding from individuals like David Borger, then MP for Granville and Minister for Western Sydney, and a big dose of the partner organisation’s time, the awards were launched the following year.

In 2011, this first awards night attracted nearly 250 attendees. From the start organisers noticed the positive impact being nominated for an award had on individuals and organisations. The awards also changed how organisers have seen the community service sector and how it works at its best, with a high number of nominees being partnerships between collaborating organisations. Also notable is the number of innovative projects being initiated by indigenous and ethnic communities.

Now six years down the track the awards themselves are promoting new projects each year. A tangible measure of what is working, the awards are also being used to as a promotional tool to promote programs, by government departments to highlight the meeting of performance indicators and by organisations themselves able to promote their own ‘best practice’