23 May 2024

Bermagui CWA seniors housing project on the verge of completion, 20 years on

| Marion Williams
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Bermagui builders Get Smart Constructions

Bermagui builders Get Smart Constructions have made great progress since starting work on two seniors housing units in late 2023. Pictured are Calib Clarke, Andrew Ponsford and Stuart Ponsford. Photo: Cath Renwick.

Bermagui and District CWA Branch is on the verge of completing a project that has been more than 20 years in the making. The construction of two affordable rental units for pensioners in need is well underway and they are just $18,000 away from reaching their $100,000 fundraising target.

In 1982 the branch built four small housing units that have provided comfortable and affordable homes for pensioners for 42 years. One of the current tenants has been there 22 years. She is great mates with another resident who has lived there for 14 years. They are incredibly appreciative of their tiny community and the units that are walking distance from shops and services. Back then, generous donations from a well known Bermagui family, the Sinclairs, and funding from the federal government made the units possible.

Twenty years later, another Bermagui resident, Mrs Florence Froggett, bequeathed $220,000 to the branch to spend on the Sinclair Memorial Units. In 2011 the branch planned and designed two new units for the site. The project was shelved because it did not comply with State Environmental Planning.

Sometimes ABC’s Utopia came to mind as CWA’s efforts to use the bequest for a worthy cause were thwarted by red tape. Between 2012 and 2018 they hoped that Illawarra Retirement Trust could use the funds to build a palliative care unit in Dalmeny.

Two of the long-term tenants of the original four units enjoying a chat.

Two of the long-term tenants of the original four units enjoying a chat. The tenants have formed a tiny community together. Photo: Cath Renwick.

That never came to anything, so in 2019, they revisited the idea of building two new units. The CWA State Office approved the plan in 2021, and a year later, Bega Valley Shire Council approved the development application (DA).

Branch treasurer Cath Renwick said about 40 per cent of the units’ rent paid the rates and upkeep. The balance “we have been squirrelling away for years, then we realised we could build these two units and we had the possibility of $200,000 from the NSW Government Local Small Commitment Allocation (LSCA) Program”.

She said that when the project was completed the income remaining after overheads would go into the community for good causes.

By 2022 the cost of building far exceeded the bequest, despite the branch’s astute investment. With the approved DA and $500,000 of savings in hand, and a builder lined up, the branch approached Member for Bega Dr Michael Holland for additional funding. In March 2023 Dr Holland committed $200,000 to the project if Labor won the state election. That $200,000 grant from the State Government LSCA program enabled Bermagui builder Get Smart Constructions to commence work on the site in late 2023.

One of the tenants of the existing four units, Nieves Cridland, with the succulents she has grown in her garden.

One of the tenants of the existing four units, Nieves Cridland, with the succulents she has grown in her garden. Photo: Cath Renwick.

Meanwhile the CWA branch worked on how to raise the last $100,000 needed. There is a giant raffle with prizes totalling almost $7000 from the generosity of local businesses, and people can make donations or ‘fund a fitting’ for the units through a dedicated website. On 8 June the branch is holding a Grand High Tea and Art Auction.

The auction, which was launched online on 19 May, features work by local artists and pieces that have been donated. That includes the triptych Snowmobile by Renee So. Ms So was born in Hong Kong, emerged as an artist in Australia and is now based in London. Ms Renwick said the work is valued at more than $15,000.

As of 20 May, the branch had raised $82,000 over 10 months with a huge response from the community of Bermagui and beyond. Meanwhile Get Smart Constructions has made huge progress, with the walls up, roof in place and interiors well underway.

Branch president Paula Rumble said it was a huge relief to be coming to the end of this massive project.

“At times it has been frustrating and at other times exhilarating. To have this CWA project coming to fruition in a town that has offered so much support is a beautiful thing.

“We are all tired, the work isn’t over, but it is all so worthwhile because at least two more people will have secure affordable homes and there’ll be many others over the years to come. Bermagui CWA sees it as something valuable to the town – practical assistance where it is needed and manageable into the future.”

For more information contact [email protected].

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