Callout for Community Space!

Recently we posted about THE BOWER Reuse & Repair Centre‘s eviction from the Addison Road Community Centre. I spent a lot of time reading comments from the local community, overwhelmingly in support of The Bower – and rightly so! Along with Reverse Garbage they’ve been diverting waste from landfill and assisting other community groups and creatives for so many years.

I felt compelled to share our story as well. In 2014 Sydney Creative Play applied to be tenants at ARCCO and were given Hut 9 and told we would sign a 1 year lease. We announced a launch date. As our move-in date approached we still hadn’t signed a lease – when I inquired I was told they do things “casually”. I said that’s fine but we would need something in writing. We moved in and spent significant time cleaning a filthy space in need of repair. By our opening day we still hadn’t heard back about our lease. I again followed up and was told that actually we were looking at 6-months. It wasn’t ideal, but we just wanted to open.

We did, and found huge success, serving hundreds of families within our opening weeks. A month went by and we still had no lease. After one more follow-up I was told that, in fact, we’d need to be out before the end of the year because they had other plans for the space. It was late October.

We scrambled to find solutions, appealed to what was then Marrickville Council, but much like yesterday’s debacle, were told that the Council’s hands were tied and they could not help us. We packed everything up in December 2014.

I’m not sharing this story to shame ARCCO. My suspicions are that the truth of what’s going on at this space will come to light.

Rather, I want to highlight the intense struggle that it has been, attempting to run a community non-profit organisation in Sydney. For, little did I know, this was just the beginning for SCP in our quest to find space.

When we re-opened in Canterbury in 2016 I thought it would be a great fresh start for us in a different LGA, but instead I found myself fighting for space not once, but twice. We subleased from a privately run warehouse space, but then in 2017 the owner evicted the tenants because they were planning to demolish the building to make way for a controversial high-rise apartment block, right on the Cooks River. I was one of many community members who spoke out against this development at council meetings, to no avail.

We had already been looking into the former Canterbury Bowling Club space just across the road, so we spoke to the Canterbury Theatre Guild who were leasing it, and began subleasing from them to run our programs. We discovered the huge bowling green was sitting there unused, despite the fact that a family trust had specifically left the bowling club to the community. So we began activating the space. We put in a mud kitchen, made plans for a garden. Our kids flew kites and played parachute on the greens. But when the council got word that we were using it, we turned up one morning to find ourselves locked out. We literally had to find a hole in the fencing the council had erected to remove our outdoor play supplies.

So, we closed again and re-launched in July this year at the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre. Again, I thought, new location, fresh start. While the Centre’s programs staff have been very supportive of our work, unfortunately the space just did not suit our activities for a variety of logistical reasons and the lack of any outdoor space really impeded what we could do. We began looking for alternatives and kicking around ideas for getting involved with a community garden – to really give our kids a chance to get their hands dirty. We approached three different established community gardens – all three rejected us, as they didn’t want children involved. (One is even next door to my home!) We spoke to the Inner West Council but heard that common refrain – their hands were tied and they couldn’t help us find a space of our own.

At this point we have put our regular programming on hiatus. You may have heard whisperings that we’d be working with COMMUNE next year. As much as we loved working with them at Newtown Festival and are looking forward to seeing their new space, unfortunately, this is another partnership that was not meant to be.

So, here we are, once again without a home despite the work of myself and dozens of other volunteers. I’ve never made a dollar off of this work but have put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. I have boxes of art supplies and and sensory play tubs languishing in whatever corners of my home I can stuff them into. After four years I am utterly exhausted. But I still believe so passionately in our vision of a dedicated space where kids can make art and make a mess, where children’s right to play is honoured and imaginations are nurtured – a community space accessible to all families.

Against my better judgment I’m sharing our story here because at this point we don’t have a lot to lose. We’ve exhausted our list of contacts, gotten in touch with multiple council departments. We’ve tried looking at commercial spaces but the astronomical rents make my eyes water. And yet, there are empty shopfronts all over the Inner West.

So now, we are turning to you our community from the last four years, on the slim chance you have read this far (thank you!) and may be able to put us into contact with someone who can help.

We are looking for space within the Inner West – somewhere we can have a mix of indoor and outdoor use. We are happy to collaborate and share space with others as I know we are not the only small community organisation in this boat. I hear The Bower may be looking for a new home soon I’ve been heartened to see the outpouring of community support for those guys and it gives me hope that there may be enough of you out there to help keep us going and serving families in the Inner West.

Please feel free to email us if you have any contacts who might be able to help us: sydneycreativeplay@gmail.com

Thanks,
Sharon Baldwin,
Founder Sydney Creative Play

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