The following account of the development of what is now the Donald Community Centre is re-written from minutes of the Redland District Committee on the Ageing (RDCOTA).
The 7th RDCOTA AGM in 1977, brought soul searching as to what could be the answer to finding permanent premises for RDCOTA‘s Rest Room following the Baptist Church lease. Would the Shire Council supply a hall or should money be raised to build the all-important Senior Citizens Centre? Cost estimates would be around $½ million, much more than service clubs and seniors groups could contemplate. Government funding would be the only option. However, Council did not have suitable land available for such a project. The overwhelming issue of finding a new home for RDCOTA was now firmly entrenched in the minds of the Committee. In the interim, fund raising through cups of tea at 20c and raffles selling Lions fruit cakes were ongoing in an endeavour to build the general and building funds up for future needs.
Eventually it was revealed by Cr. Wood that Council favoured a Community Centre over a Senior Citizens Centre and plans were on the Chairman’s desk. State and Federal Government funding would be sought and a Trust Fund launched towards the construction of a Community Centre which would cater not only to seniors but to the community as a whole. President Sykes asked for Service Clubs to nominate representatives to attend RDCOTA Meetings so that all interested parties would be able to participate in the planning stages of the proposed new Community Centre. Perhaps this was going to be the answer to RDCOTA’s need for a new home as Cr. Wood announced a space in the new centre would be allocated to RDCOTA allowing the group to continue its Rest Room activities. In February 1980, tenders were called by Council for the Community Centre to be built in Norfolk Park at a cost estimate of around $720,000. (Norfolk Park is where RPAC now stands).
In September 1981, the new Cultural Centre in Norfolk Park (where the present day Cultural Centre stands) was ready for inspection by Pres. Sykes along with Mr. Cleary who checked out the space which was to be allocated to RDCOTA for the continuation of the Rest Room.
Sadly, after the inspection, it was determined:
Walking distance from the main shopping centre was too far for volunteers and patrons.
There were three roads to cross
The space allocated was too small
There was no place for handicraft stall
The carpeted area was unsuitable for serving food.
Patrons would feel out of place when functions are being held.
On Rest Room busy days, Thursdays and Fridays, there was not enough seating.
On these grounds, it was decided not to take up the Council’s offer of space in the new building. Disappointment must have been the prevailing feeling with the realization that with no suitable premises they were back to square one with no place to go.
The twelfth RDCOTA AGM, in July 1982, brought the groups ‘insecurity’ a faint whiff of security when Cr. Genrich offered RDCOTA shared space with the SES and St. Lukes Nursing Service at 11 Doig Street. This space would not be ready for about 12 months. Mr. David Jull MHR spoke on behalf of the organisation stating that, within the Wynnum and Redland Districts, a total of 21,284 pensioners resided and the efforts of RDCOTA and other organisations were needed to help coordinate activities for the elderly.
These rumblings were soon eclipsed by a Special meeting which took place in the still standing Doig Street Rest Room on 25 October 1982. Twenty-five people attended including the Deputy Shire Chairman Cr. G. Dunstan along with members from RDCOTA, Redland/Victoria Point/Capalaba Senior Citizens Clubs, Redlands Pensioners League, ESA Women International and Civilian Widows.
Mrs. Sykes, President of RDCOTA, welcomed attendees. The reason for the meeting was to discuss the recently proposed Senior Citizens Centre to be built in the Redlands. Mrs Sykes advised that the Centre would be for the aged in the District under the auspices of RDCOTA and the Redland Shire Council.
Cr. Dunstan stated that it had come to the Shire Chairman’s attention that there was a need for a Senior Citizens Centre in the Redlands. Public Halls were in continuing demand so there was a real need for a Centre to operate on a permanent basis containing a hall and activity rooms for the sole use of our senior Citizens.
Funding was discussed through State and Federal sources of up to five-sixths of the total target of $400,000 needed. With the balance of $70,000 to be made up by Council and public contribution. It was decided by Council to:
A Public Meeting would be called by the Chairman of the Redland Shire Council to form a Fund Raising and Special Advisory Committee, through the Redland District Committee on the Ageing, to raise sufficient capital and assist with the drawing up of draft plans for a Senior Citizens Centre in the Redlands.
Consequently. at the following Shire Council Meeting, a motion was passed on the 21 October 1982:
“That the Council immediately make application to the State Health Department for funding towards the building of a Senior Citizens Centre in the Redlands and that an amount of $35,000.00 be applied for in the Council’s 1983/4 Loan Program as the Council’s contribution towards the construction of the Centre.”
This motion passed unanimously.
RDCOTA President Sykes summed it all up by saying she envisaged this Centre would be run on a similar basis to Wynnum’s Over 50’s Leisure Centre with an annual subscription placed on individuals who use the Centre. E.S.A. Women’s International Handicapped Program for the aged could be housed at this Centre.
History was in the making at this important meeting. The concept of the Donald Simpson Over 50’s Leisure Centre was now not just a gleam in the eye of Redland Seniors, it was going to become a reality in due course. Funding the project was going to be a joint effort by Council and local organisations under the auspice of RDCOTA.
In 1987, the Donald Simpson Centre was finally operational with Frank Carroll appointed as Manager.
During this period, Frank Carroll, Manager of the Donald Simpson Centre, invited a member of the RDCOTA Management team to sit on the Donald Simpson Board. The first person voted to take this seat was Mr. Bob Pedley.
RDCOTA and its Sub Committee, “The Donald Simpson Fund Raising Committee”, made up of RDCOTA & General Public members, forged ahead to achieve the goal of raising $35,000 towards the building of the new centre. It was business as usual for RDCOTA although the Rest Room was now closed. The Wynnum Manly Senior Citizens centre was to be the model for the Redland Shire Seniors Centre. The State Health Department would hold the plans until the Constitution was drawn up. The Committee was also advised to form a Steering Management Committee according to the following guidelines: 2 members from Shire Council, 2 members from RDCOTA, 1 member from Cleveland Meals on Wheels, 2 members from Service Clubs of the Redlands, 1 member from the Minister’s Fraternal and 1 member from the Redland Awareness Group. Mr Clyde Gilmour was appointed to liaise between the Steering Committee and Council and the Health Department. There was a lot to discuss; who would use the centre and what activities would be offered etc. The RDCOTA 16th AGM was held on 5th August 1986, with 33 members attending. Mrs Frances Simpson was renominated as President of RDCOTA. The guest speaker was Dr Merv Cheong, Director, Division of Community Medicine (Department of Health). He advised that the new Centre would be the last Centre to receive funding under the State’s Home Care Grant of 1969 and future Grants would be under the auspice of HACC (Home and Community Care) Grants of 1985. President Frances announced assets now held by the Fund raising Committee were $25,386.08. Intensive fund raising was to continue, including bus trips, concerts, cent auctions, donations from Apex Club/Rotary Clubs and Lions Club members. The Donald Simpson Centre building was progressing well with completion not far off. At the RDCOTA 17th AGM on 2nd December 1987, held at the newly opened Donald Simpson Centre, President Frances Simpson welcomed the Guest speaker Rev. Canon Neville Knott. Election of office bearers brought an entirely new Executive —President Mr. Bob Elms, VP Mr Bas Goddard and Mrs Joyce Aldridge Sec/Treasurer. The Management Committee also had new names, Sister Meg O’Driscoll, Mrs Mary Gilbert, Mrs Alison Appleby, Mr Ted Rohrig, Mr Bob Pedley, Sister Bev Prior, Mrs Merle Bahr, Mrs Elaine Gulliver, Mr Trevor Jones, Mrs Kath Nunan. Frances Simpson thanked the Redland Shire Council and RDCOTA Management for paying tribute to her late husband in the naming of the Centre in his memory. Nomination of an RDCOTA Committee Member to the Board of the Donald Simpson Over 50’s Leisure Centre took place. Mrs Joyce Aldridge accepted the nomination replacing Mr Les Hogan who had resigned from this position. Thanks were given to the many groups who had contributed to the successful raising of $30,000 handed over to the Redland Shire towards the building, Additional funding for curtains to dress interior windows etc. was mentioned. The closing of the original Rest Room had now been addressed with the new centre up and running with kitchen service for Tea/Coffee etc. for members. Mr Merv Genrich and Mr Clyde Gilmour were sincerely thanked for their service to the community. RDCOTA now faced the dilemma of whether the Committee had served its purpose and should be absorbed or abandoned.
The newly completed Donald Simpson Over 50’s Leisure Centre was finally a reality. The Cleveland Community had a Seniors Centre to call its own. The achievement of this goal meant it was time to relax and reflect and RDCOTA Management Committee did just that. The extraordinary efforts put into raising $30,000 plus towards the building and furnishing of the Centre was no mean feat. Another reality was that the organisation’s bank accounts were now empty having been absorbed into the Donald Simpson Fund Raising Committee’s coffers. To give credit where it’s due, local fund raising for the Centre came collectively from the citizens of the Redlands, the local Service Organisations and the many fund-raising activities of RDCOTA/Donald Simpson Fund Raising Committee members. Raising this amount of money in 1985/86, when a dollar was worth much more than it is today, was a credit to everyone involved. The very large cost balance was funded by State and Federal grants.
Comment on recent funding cuts to Donald Simpson Centre
Some very interesting claims were made in support of the recent Redland City council decision to initially halve and then to cease funding to the Donald Simpson Community Centre. It was apparent from the outset, to anyone familiar with the appropriate facts, that these claims were a clumsy manipulation of elements which would look convincing to those who know little of the Centre.
Some of these claims were: that the Council had foregone rental of the premises; that the Council had contributed to the establishment of the Centre; that the Council has ongoing budget items for capital and maintenance expenditure; that this withdrawal of funds was part of a movement to reduce expenditure for community organisations across the city and that the Centre Board had over $200 000 dollars in the bank with no plans to use it on behalf of the Centre. It was also claimed that the lost funds would be devoted to the Redlands Age-friendly agenda and the development of a community hub.
All of these are spurious when considered closely. I intend here to explain why, not to mount an attack, but to clear the air so that future discussions can proceed free of these concocted claims.
Why oh why would anyone believe that the Council would charge rental to a group of around nearly a hundred community volunteers who operate a community centre purchased with public funds and entrusted to the Council to manage on behalf of the Community. The fact that the Council at the time determined to manage this trust by (quite wisely) seeking volunteers does not change the fact that the centre was placed in their hands, rather than appointing community trustees, was an acknowledgement that the Council, as the manager of community funds, obtained from rates and charges, is in the best position to sustain the centre. It was never intended, nor should it ever be contemplated, that these community volunteers, on top of the hours spent freely, should also be charged rent for the privilege.
Capital and Maintenance Expenditure
Having accepted the trusteeship of the building, the Council owns it and all of its fixtures and fittings. This applies to elements installed by the Council or the Board. Under the lease between the Council and the Board, the Council is required to maintain those items which it has installed and the Board maintains what it installs. While the Council claims this as part of its largesse, it is no different from any other lease where the lessor pays for building maintenance and upgrade and the lessee pays for other agreed items. Under the present arrangement, the process operates very badly with the board not informed of any budget amount for capital or maintenance and the Council reluctant to pay for items it has agreed to pay under the lease often draining the Centre’s funds to make much-needed repairs and desirable improvements.
Reduction of Community Expenditure
We do not know of any other community group which is losing its funding. If there are any, we would like to hear but we hope this is not happening for the sake of our fellow community workers.
The Centre’s Treasure Trove
I have explained this in a number of documents but I will write the short version here to complete the record.
At the time of the funding loss decision, the Centre did have around $230 000 in current and term deposits. The Council knew this as they receive regular financial and Centre reports from us and a Council representative and a Councillor attend board meetings as observers and receive our meeting papers.
The Council also knew from all of this information that we maintain a reserve of around three months’ operational expenditure, amounting to around $150 000, as insurance against loss of business in case of fire or some other emergency. During the Hub discussions, we agreed to a Council request to put some funds aside as a possible contribution to the Hub and the Board agreed on $70 000. We had also ordered a digital sign for the Bloomfield Street frontage for $30 000 which took over a year to gain Council approval. We had other needs for which we were trying over a period of time to allocate funding including: a solid cover for the seats to protect members waiting for transport in front of the Centre; air-conditioning for the cafeteria; solar panels on the roof; new auditorium curtains to replace the non-fire-compliant ones on the stage and a long wish list created by a lack of renovation to many elements of the Centre.
Age-Friendly Program and Community Hub
Attempts to obtain agreement from the Council were begun by the Redland SenIors’ Network, were superseded when the Queensland Government appointed COTAQ to pilot an Age-friendly Cities program in Redland City. This pilot began with a committee of which I was a member but has not met in 2017 with no explanation having been given. As far as devoting $100 000 to a $4 or 5 million hub project is concerned, I presume that this can be seen to be a fairly weak argument.
The Centre has many facets and we attempt to manage and maintain a smooth operation for our members. We probably make mistakes but none of the volunteers takes home anything but satisfaction in making a contribution to our community. We will manage in 2017-2018 but 2018-2019, when we lose all of our funding may very well see us unable to carry on. Raising $100 000 from the members is not an option as many cannot afford to bear additional costs. While the membership fee has been kept low at $22 per year, the additional cost per week is $5 for a single activity which can amount to over a further $200 per year.
If the community wants to maintain a unique facility for its elder 30% of residents and our future members, some adjustment will have to be made to enable the Centre, not only to continue but to grow and maintain its surroundings in good order.