If anyone knows how difficult it is to operate a community service in Gungahlin, it’s Barnardos Inner North/Gungahlin network coordinator Shaun Hodson.
He’s been hunting for a permanent, suitable space for his team since a need was first identified in the area seven years ago.
Mr Hodson said it was high time the government recognised the fact suitable spaces were lacking in Gungahlin.
“We’ve got the land out here, but it keeps being sold for residential or commercial purposes, not for a community/youth drop-in centre which is what we want,” he said.
“Gungahlin has a real community vibe and we’re separated from the rest of Canberra. We have our own shops and services, we just need community spaces.”
Barnardos operated some youth programs out of Gungahlin College over the last few years before finding a separate office space in Gungahlin Marketplace.
But it could only secure a temporary lease because of future construction plans. Two months ago, the service received its final notice and now needs to be out by the end of February.
Mr Hodson has fortunately secured another short-term space, but it’s a waiting game until permanent community facilities can be set up.
He said conversations were underway with community partners and Member for Yerrabi Suzanne Orr to discuss what a community-specific space could look like – although it was unlikely to be set up for at least three years.
“We don’t want it to be organisation-specific,” Mr Hodson said. “Instead, it should be a shared space managed by the government or an independent role that can be rented out by the community, and community organisations can come in and use it as they need.”
Ms Orr last week moved a motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly calling on the government to better support the community sector by growing available facilities in the Gungahlin Town Centre.
She said many community services wanting to operate in the Gungahlin region had approached her because they found it a real struggle to find appropriate and suitable facilities.
She said it wasn’t appropriate to have such a fast-growing area with high demand for services left without spaces to work.
“Improved community facilities and services in Gungahlin are fundamental to supporting the community, providing better support for the region and bringing more employment opportunities to our town centre,” Ms Orr said.
“Community places and spaces are where we as a community come together, where we support each other, where we work together to bring about change and where we enliven so much of our community.”
The motion also urges the government to collaborate with the community sector on a demonstration project in the Gungahlin Town Centre – an area Ms Orr wants to see established as an employment hub.
Long-term supporter of the government providing more spaces for community organisations, the ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) welcomed the motion.
ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said the community sector had been campaigning for greater investment in community facilities.
“Community facilities play a significant role in providing affordable, accessible, fit-for-purpose spaces for community service providers, volunteers and community groups to safely gather,” she said.
“ACTCOSS has advocated for investment in a rolling program of improvements to community hubs including upkeep, maintenance and building work.
“The impacts of COVID-19 have increased demand for community services. However, cramped spaces have meant services have been cancelled due to an inability to meet physical distancing or ventilation requirements.
“Community organisations are being forced to deliver government-funded programs in inadequate and insecure spaces.”
The ACT Government, through ACT Property Group, is currently conducting a review of government-managed community facilities across the ACT. The review aims to inform future planning and identify opportunities for renewal and growth in facilities.