Historic Bombala school given a future as part of the community

Bombala Infants School, ready for new energy. Photo: Ian Campbell
Bombala Infants School, ready for new energy. Photo: Ian Campbell

Plans are underway to turn the Bombala Infants School into a place of learning again, with a safety net in place guaranteeing a positive outcome for the community.

Locals were taken by surprise when an auction sign went up on the school’s fence back in June.

The site overlooking the town first opened as a place of learning in 1863. James Poulton, the school’s first teacher had 75 kids to mark off his role on day one.

As an aside, school fees amounted to ninepence per week for the two eldest children in each family and sixpence per week for each additional child.

Solid as a rock. Photo: Ian Campbell
Solid as a rock. Photo: Ian Campbell

In the mid-1990’s the school was closed and childhood education in Bombala consolidated on the Bombala High School site.

TAFE moved into the space for a period of time offering a range of vocational and special interest subjects, however changes within TAFE and the opening of the Trade Training Centre at Bombala High took momentum and opportunities away from the historic site.

With the State-owned building empty and unused its future was put out to the market, swift community action halted the sale with the Member for Monaro, Nationals Leader, and Deputy Premier John Barilaro gifting the building to Snowy Monaro Regional Council.

Not much has changed since kids last played here. Photo: Ian Campbell
Not much has changed since kids last played here. Photo: Ian Campbell

The group that formed to stop the sale is now looking at its next step and a new chapter in the buildings 144-year-old story.

Sue Haslingden from the Bombala and Delegate Region Arts and Culture Advisory Committee says with the new Council in place it’s time to get going.

“My three children went to school here, a lot of families have incredible ties with this beautiful old building, ” Sue says.

Sue is a former Bombala Shire councilor and has just been elected to the merged Snowy Monaro Regional Council, she also remembers taking part in art and photography classes at the old school under TAFE.

“Once the art classes stopped we just found rooms here there and everywhere and applied for arts funding to bring instructors in a few times a year,” Sue says.

“We approached TAFE about using this space, but it would have been at a commercial hire rate, so it just wasn’t viable for us.”

Sue Haslingden, part of the Bombala and Delegate Region Arts and Culture Advisory Committee. Photo: Ian Campbell
Sue Haslingden, part of the Bombala and Delegate Region Arts and Culture Advisory Committee. Photo: Ian Campbell

A resumption of arts and cultural activities is seen as part of the old school’s future.

“Over the years we’ve lost Ando Public School, Bibbenluke has just gone, this building is such a part of Bombala,” Sue says.

“This building was put here by the community, the building itself was funded through fundraising and back in the early days even the teacher was funded by community efforts.”

The thought of the building being sold and the proceeds deposited into the combined TAFE coffers was a ‘red flag to the community’ Sue says.

“It was a real concern that the money from the sale wouldn’t be turned back into our community,” she explains.

The building is home to two vast learning spaces. Photo: Ian Campbell
The building is home to two vast learning spaces. Photo: Ian Campbell

With a business plan already in place through the gifting arrangements between State and Local Government,  the Arts and Culture Advisory Committee is now waiting to get the keys and put the plan into action.

“We would like to see this place as the home of a local progress association, as a place for tourist and cultural events, and as a community meeting place for a range of interests and groups,” Sue says.

Appointing a project officer to activate and manage the space is one of the first steps to drive the idea forward.

“The town needs a place for a range of groups to call home, this will be a hub for the Bombala community,” Sue says.

An exit clause has been negotiated that guarantees funds from any future sale of the building would be returned to Bombala.

“So if our business plan doesn’t work, and we find we can’t maintain it or it’s not viable, in three years time we can sell it and the money stays in the community,” Sue says.

With plans for an opening event growing, Sue says, “Watch this space!”

Anyone for cricket? Photo: Ian Campbell
Anyone for cricket? Photo: Ian Campbell

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Bega asked to invest in a Funhouse future – $20,000 to go

Funhouse fun and games
Funhouse fun and games

The push is on to secure the closest thing Bega might have ever had to a youth and community centre.

The Funhouse on Hill Street has been operating for just a handful of months but in that time it has become a big feature in the lives of the growing community of people around it and a ‘go to’ resource for a range of ideas and initiatives.

Thirty-one-year-old Cayce Hill is the force behind it.

Cayce moved to the Bega Valley two years ago having spent the five years prior in Melbourne, a long way from her hometown of Claremont, about 50km east of Los Angeles.

“A lot of my city friends said to me ‘you are going to be bored’ (in Bega) but the reality is so different,” Cayce says.

“There’s a lot of motivated, wonderful, creative energy flowing and Funhouse is starting to be the gravitational pull.”

Over the next 24 days, Cayce is hoping to raise a further $20,000 to keep the Funhouse going as it is now into 2017. A little over $9,000 has already been pledged via a crowdfunding  ‘Pozible’ campaign.

Longtime Bega businessman Peter Turner owns the building which until recently housed his long-running video hire business.

Funhouse gigs draw a crowd
Funhouse gigs draw a crowd

Cayce credits Peter with contributing to the early success of Funhouse by agreeing to a lesser rent for the three-level property. The aim now is to wipe that pressure for a whole year and raise the $29,000 needed.

Most of the money to get Funhouse to this point has come from Cayce’s on-site dance classes.

“I have fifty plus students and all the money they give me goes straight into Funhouse,” she says.

“But now that we are starting to get enough members using the space, Funhouse will be able to sustain itself more that way.”

Since the end of July, an eclectic mix of users has been booking space regularly within these brown brick walls just back from Bega’s main street.

Meditation, martial arts, board games, theatre , flamenco lessons, language classes, ballet, yoga, maths tutoring, men’s singing and more are part of the Funhouse program. Each session pays its way and the people connected to those varied interests become part of a community, something Cayce hopes is the start of a viable future.

While Funhouse is and will continue to be used by a wide range of ages, the needs of youth are at the heart of the next step.

“Bega desperately needs a place where young people can go,” Cayce says

“I can’t think of any place that a young person can go in Bega on a Friday night – to just hang out.”

There's always a place to crash at Funhouse
There’s always a place to crash at Funhouse

First though, breathing space is what Cayce is hoping to buy through the Pozible campaign; rent in 2017 covered so that a more strategic approach towards youth and community programs can be developed without worrying about $600 rent each week.

“From that vantage point I can see all the things that I have been keeping on the back burner,” Cayce says.

“Business incubation, youth programs, a drop-in space, really being strategic about what we as a collective, as a cooperative want to achieve.”

Before the work of her journalist partner brought her to the Bega Valley, Cayce worked with the not-for-profit youth performing arts organisation ‘Outer Urban Projects‘.

“That alone was really inspirational, but I also had friends who owned bars who were putting on hip-hop workshops, there was so much happening in Melbourne,” Cayce says.

“When I came to the area (the Bega Valley) I think I was really thirsty for that.”

Cayce says she was also surprised to learn that many locals saw Bega as a town to pass through, on your way to somewhere else – somewhere better.

“I just thought, I reckon I can change that,” Cayce says.

Cayce Hill
Cayce Hill

“If there was a space where people could stop in and they knew that their friends would maybe be there or they knew that some kind of project or energy was happening, people might be more likely to spend a bit more time in Bega.”

Rather than have the Funhouse tied to a government agency or semi-corporate entity, Cayce sees greater strength in the community taking ownership of it.

The Funhouse of the future will be shaped by the people that step up to take in on.

Governance structures around a cooperative model are being built and would be developed further as financial security is deepened.

While money is in short supply, trust has been the key Funhouse commodity.

“It’s amazed me, everyone comes and is so loving and nurturing, and happy and expressive, there’s not been one bad egg,” Cayce says.

Similar values are at play in shaping what happens within the space. The steady stream of high schoolers making the Funhouse their own is a testament to that.

A lesson in youth engagement from Cayce Hill – from the About Regional podcast

At a time when many well-meaning organisations are scratching their head, pondering how to engage with youth, Funhouse has nailed it, something groups like the PCYC have acknowledged and are tapping into.

“The secret is just asking them (youth) and consulting with them,” Cayce says.

“I’ve been doing quite a bit of listening and I think that has created an atmosphere where rather than me pushing my agenda, I’ve allowed for a larger youth voice.”

It’s a philosophy that informs a simple business plan for the future, one that starts with a community need or interest and then goes about developing an appropriate level of response based on what the community can afford or accommodate.

The Pozible pitch to cover next year’s rent is the first test of that, and the Funhouse of 2017 will be shaped by it.