From the outside, it’s an unassuming brick building in the city’s southwestern corner but inside, residents say, the building has played an important role in bringing together a diverse city neighbourhood.
The South West Community Centre on Sturt Street has, since August, brandished a ‘For Sale’ sign after the building’s former owner notified the Adelaide City Council of their intention to auction the building.
Although the council’s lease of the building – then stipulated until March next year – was transferrable under a change in ownership, news of the building’s eventual sale in September sparked widespread community concern for the centre’s long-term future.
“The sale actually occurred during the (council) caretaker period, so not only did they have little time to organise a new lease but there also wasn’t the opportunity for the council to purchase it,” says new south ward councillor Helen Donovan.
“It meant that once the sale went through, it became a matter of, well, what’s next for the centre?
“The council had very little time to react because the owner decided to sell the building in a very short time period. It was really quite out of the blue.”
Since opening in 2005, the South West Community Centre has become a community hub for the neighbourhood, with about 70 community groups regularly using the building for classes, meetings and social gatherings.
The volunteer and council-run centre also offers computers, kitchen facilities and a community garden.
“It’s an absolute community hub,” Donovan says.
“To lose it would have been devastating for the community, who have really come to enjoy it.”
South West City Community Association chair Susan Collins says the building’s sale provoked uncertainty and stress among residents, many of whom she says frequent the centre on a weekly basis to catch up with other locals and participate in community forums.
“We would be out on the streets talking to people in the community and they would be telling us how stressed and anxious they were about the community centre,” she says.
“We have a very diverse community here – there are people who are both a little bit down and not doing so well right through to people who are doing very well.
“It’s a great cross-section of humanity in a way but we all seem to muddle together quite well, and the community centre is really at the heart of a lot of that.”
For Collins, part of the centre’s appeal is the space it provides for residents to socialise.
“Anybody that needs to have a chat can drop in and have a tea or a coffee, or talk to the volunteers that are there,” she says.
“There are computers there for people who perhaps don’t have computers at home who can go online and have a surf of the internet.
“With the city, you do tend to downsize a bit and there aren’t as many gardens at the back of houses these days, so therefore to have a place where you can just drop in and mix with people, it’s really a great thing.”
Fearing what could happen to the centre under a change in building ownership, the South West City Community Association appealed to the council to prevent the centre from closing.
Former south ward councillor Priscilla Corbell-Moore successfully advocated for council to develop a plan to lease or purchase an alternate site for the centre nearby.
She also appealed for the council to negotiate with the new owner of the building to extend the council’s lease.
“It was a stressful time but at the same time we got a lot of support from people that use the centre, but also from our general neighbourhood,” Collins says.
“We asked the council to look at allowing their administration to continue looking for a solution for it during the caretaker period and they unanimously agreed, which was wonderful.”
Council last week signed off on a lease with the building’s new owner, which secures the council’s tenancy until late September 2020.
A council spokesperson says the lease will be under the same terms and conditions as before, although they declined to provide InDaily with further details of the new arrangement.
“The administration has actually done an amazing job to very quickly arrange for the building to be leased up until September 2020, which gives it the opportunity to ensure that the City Council can find a long-term solution if the owner decides at that stage that they won’t continue to lease it,” Donovan says.
“The fact that the centre never shut down during this time and it has the guarantee until 2020 is a great outcome.”
For Collins, the short reprieve is welcome news ahead of a busy period at the centre.
“It’s giving us a good Christmas here – we’re having a Christmas party in a couple of weeks at the centre and I think it will be quite joyful now considering at least we know we can stay here until 2020,” she says.
“The centre is very much needed in our area and some would be lost without it, so we’re really happy with the news.”
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