Ross Thomas - 13 September 2022

Ross Thomas presented to Council at the Public Access Session on 13 September 2022.


13 September 2022

Good morning, Mayor Hatcher, Shire Councillors and Council staff.

My name is Ross Thomas and I am here this morning as the representative of Batemans Bay U3A,  to request Council to lease a parcel of land to our organisation and to Eurobodalla Meals on Wheels. Our joint purpose is to place on such a piece of land some demountable buildings in which we would each conduct our activities. This would enable both organisations to overcome major problems we have faced since the previous Council leased the Batemans Bay Community Centre to another organisation last year.

What U3A does, and the problems it faces

In case any of you are unsure about what Batemans Bay U3A does, and what are the problems which we are facing, I will outline them both. First, Batemans Bay U3A is a not-for-profit community organisation which is run entirely by volunteers, and seeks to provide its members – who currently number more than 500, and about three quarters of whom are aged over 70 - with opportunities to  learn more about subjects of interest to them, and to take part in adult exercise programs  and to participate in social activities with each other.

Currently we conduct about 40 classes each week, covering arts and crafts, foreign languages, science, history, current affairs, literature, and adult exercise programs. It is well known that when older people take part in these activities and socialise together, they can maintain their mental and physical health for much longer than would otherwise be the case. This helps to reduce the cost of aged care,  improves the quality of life for older people  in the community, and does this at no cost to the State Government or the Council.

The services which U3A and Meals on Wheels provide are especially important in the Shire of  Eurobodalla, because of the unusual age structure of our community.  The 2021 Census revealed that fifty percent of this community (20,252 people out of the total of 40,587) is over the age of 55, compared to less than 36% for regional NSW generally. This makes the services provided by the volunteers in U3A and Meals on Wheels not only good for the general health and happiness of the Eurobodalla community, but they actually save the NSW Government and the Council a lot of money, by sparing them from having to provide that sort of support to the large proportion of elderly and incapacitated people who live here.

Now for the problems we need to resolve. The previous Council’s decision to lease the Batemans Bay Community Centre forced us – and, for that matter, all the other community organisations which used to make use of that building – to find other venues in which to conduct our activities. While we have been able to make good use of the Community Centres in Malua Bay and Tomakin, there are limitations on the number of people who can attend classes there. And while the Bay Pavilions do have excellent facilities that would be suitable for some of our activities, the big difficulty we have with the Pavilions is that they have to run on a commercial basis, which makes their venue  hire charges roughly double what we pay to use other venues.

Being a volunteer organisation, we have very limited financial resources. That has meant that since the loss of our access to the Batemans Bay Community Centre, more of our activities have had to be conducted in venues that are less than optimal – such as church halls and members’ own homes. We also need to find some premises in which to store our equipment and records securely.

We need premises of our own if we are to remain viable, to grow and to continue to provide services to our community.

The options and the solution

So what can we do? For several years, U3A has investigated the local real estate market in the hope of finding some premises which we might lease or purchase. Regrettably, nothing exists that is both suitable and affordable. This situation is very likely to continue to confront us, partly because our members have some special requirements which are hard to satisfy. For example, many can only attend classes in venues which are on ground level and are easy to access. Car parking, of course,  is a major consideration for them. So is air conditioning, to deal with temperature extremes in winter and summer. IT availability is another important requirement. And unlike the situation in major urban centres, there are simply very few buildings in the Batemans Bay area which meet these requirements and which also have rooms that are the right size for our activities.

This has led us to conclude that the only way we can deal with the problems we face is to work with Meals on Wheels - an organisation whose clients are in the same demographic as our members, and which conducts some of the same activities as U3A does – and ask the Council to help us both. We think that the Council must have some land somewhere in the general vicinity of Batemans Bay which it could lease to us. That would enable both of us to place some  demountable classrooms and kitchen/bathroom modules on it, and operate satisfactorily. It might also enable us to sub-let the facilities we intend to put there to other community groups which also need an affordable venue to hire.

It is worth noting that such an arrangement would not be a cost to the Council. Our two organisations would not only be paying rent but would also be responsible for meeting the costs of utilities, insurance and facility maintenance – all things for which the Council had to bear the cost in  the former Community Centre.

We are not asking Council for financial help, but we hope that it would follow the approach taken by some other Councils in the State and not require us to pay rent on a fully commercial basis. We consider this to be fair and reasonable because, as I have said,  Council already makes savings from the important volunteer work both organisations do to strengthen the resilience and health of the Eurobodalla community.

We need Council to agree to  request, for the good of the whole community.

Thank you.