Jan Macindoe, Convenor Community Development Subcommittee, Bulletin 5/2021  July 2021

Do you remember when the Glebe Town Hall, prior to renovation, was the venue for many community activities? I remember Pilates and Yoga classes, children’s dance and community choirs, and I always enjoyed hearing bush dances called as one wandered past the building of an evening.

Following renovation, the cost of hiring the Town Hall and the complexity of the application process, have precluded the kinds of small-scale activities run by enterprising locals.

Now there are virtually no community activities in Glebe, either supported by the City of Sydney or using their venues. Even before COVID, St Helen’s Community Centre was the main venue for activities, but with only one hireable room, occupied by fitness classes in the morning and bingo in the afternoon, there was no option for a wider range of activities.

Existing community centres in the City of Sydney LGA (circles with icons). The location of the proposed Glebe Town Hall Community Centre is marked by a solid circle. (Sources: https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/explore/community-centres with additions by the Bulletin editor)

The City Council’s retreat from a role in facilitating community activities contrasts markedly with the situation in the adjoining Inner West Council. Compare the What’s On websites of both Councils. The Inner West listing of activities, accessible from the main page of their website, offers a wide range of exercise, art, craft, discussion groups, and more, aimed at all ages, and offered across many venues.

By contrast, the City of Sydney’s What’s On is more like a guide for visitors and tourists to major cultural events, at the Opera House, Art Gallery and Botanic Garden for example. It covers areas from the Lower North Shore to the Eastern Suburbs – areas not in the City LGA – and is not focused on the City’s own ‘villages’.

The Community Development subcommittee has been campaigning for a long time for the Glebe Town Hall to again be a staffed community centre. To be clear, we do not want Council staff to organise activities themselves, but rather to invite, facilitate and promote activities offered by enterprising locals or small groups. In person support is needed to navigate the venue booking process, application for reduced or waived fees, access to venues and promotion.

In a recent response from the Lord Mayor, she says that Kirsten Woodward, Manager Social Programs & Services, will contact the Society ‘about your request to have a staffed community centre at Glebe Town Hall, and the activities you would like to see take place there, and whether these programs would be better suited to hold in another venue in the local area.’

This is our opportunity to make a thoughtful and ambitious response! The Community Development Subcommittee would like to hear from members about the kinds of activities you would like, and just as importantly, where you would like them to be offered.

Send your ideas, vague thoughts, or even reminiscences to Jan Macindoe at community@glebesociety.org.au.

Background on the Glebe Town Hall Community Centre proposal

Virginia Simpson-Young

Glebe Town Hall (Photo: Russellstreet Flickr)

In Bulletin 1 of 2020, Janice Challinor, then convenor of the Community Development Subcommittee, wrote about the Subcommittee’s decision to recommend that the Glebe Town Hall in St Johns Rd be used as a Community Centre. The Subcommittee had spoken with many older people in the community who had identified a lack of social and other services for themselves and their friends. Janice wrote:

‘We came to the conclusion that Glebe would benefit from a dedicated Community centre, and that Glebe Town Hall, due to its geographically central location and variety of useful spaces would be appropriate for such a development.’

After liaising with other local groups and service providers the Glebe Society submitted a proposal to the Lord Mayor and the Council of the City of Sydney, asking that they give serious consideration to such a proposal.

The Society was very pleased to hear that its proposal led to a motion put before Council by Cr Jess Scully on 7 March last year. The motion, ‘Community service provision in Glebe’ was passed unanimously. The motion asked the City of Sydney’s Chief Executive Officer to:

Investigate how services in Glebe might be consolidated and made more accessible to a:

  1. wider range of constituents, particularly focusing on the needs of older residents;
  2. Investigate options for service provision in Glebe, and report back via CEO update;
  3. Solicit input from Glebe community organisations like the Glebe Society, the Coalition of Glebe Groups, Glebe Connected, Glebe Community Development Project, local Aboriginal elders and others to discover where the City’s service provision in Glebe could be enhanced, and incorporate feedback into delivering the Social Sustainability Policy & Action Plan’s commitment to ‘ensuring our community facilities continue to respond to changing community needs and preferences by analysing user trends, emerging unmet demands and opportunities to improve delivery.

The following month, on 28 April, Lord Mayor Clover Moore convened a meeting on Zoom to consider the views of the Glebe Society on the topic of creating a Community Centre at Glebe Town Hall (GTH). At the end of the productive meeting, the Lord Mayor undertook to further address the Society’s proposal with her staff, with a view to increasing the Glebe Town Hall’s contribution for community benefit.

The Society took heart from Council’s willingness to engage on this issue, but – not unsurprisingly – Council soon needed to turn its full attention to dealing with the devastating impact of COVID on its operations and people of the Sydney LGA.

In April this year, as it seemed our lives were regaining some semblance of normality, the Society wrote to the Lord Mayor again about our proposal. As mentioned in Jan Macindoe’s article above, the Society received a response from the Lord Mayor on 31 May.