The history of the Lara Community Centre from 1982 to 2002 is recorded in Celebrating our Past, Meeting our Future (3.6MB PDF). Below is an abridged version of that document.
The Lara Community Centre opened in October 1982 as a joint project of the Shire of Corio, Lara Progress Association, Lions Club of Lara and other organisations. The former Presbyterian Church buildings in Waverley Road were renovated to make them suitable for use by the Community Centre. Renovations were funded through a combination of government grants, donations from community groups and fundraising amongst the Lara public.
A number of community groups were already using the Community Centre hall when the Community Centre opened, with others invited to book the hall. Courses run at the centre in 1982 included aerobics, cake decorating and pottery.
In 1983, a coordinator was appointed, funded by a 'Family and Community Services' grant. Additional hobby-oriented courses were introduced and the provision of creche facilities encouraged young women with children to be involved. That year, the Lara Happenings, a newsletter with information of interest to local residents, began distribution. A school holiday program was also started that year, whilst youth activities were organised including film and video nights with a large number of local youth involved within a short time.
By 1985, a youth room and a creche room were built and opened, and occasional child care was first offered in 1984. The Lara Happenings was expanded from a leaflet into a booklet. The Centre was used for a short time for evacuees from the January 1985 bushfires which burnt through the You Yangs to Little River. The Community Centre worked to produce policies relating to issues such as the aims and objectives of the Centre, occupational health and safety, and equal opportunity. Funding continued from the Department of Family and Community Services and TAFE, with additional paid workers employed. The 'elderly and homebound' were catered for by the Centre through bus trips to places of interest such as the Burnley Garden and Hepburn Springs. A Local Information Guide was developed and cooperation with the Citizens' Advice Bureau began. Sunday markets were operated over the summer months as a fundraiser, along with a range of other initiatives.
In 1986 concerted effort was made to secure ongoing funding for the Centre, with funding committed from the Minister for Family and Community Services and TAFE. With approximately 1200 enrolments in classes during 1986, the Centre pursued and obtained the status of Local Advisory Community to the Council of Adult Education. In 1987, a TAFE programs coordinator was appointed and a toy library group was opened. A sub-committee was formed in 1988 in relation to the call for expressions of interest for the historic Duck Ponds School from the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands. The Centre also became active in the Tidy Towns competition.
A total of 35 education courses were offered in 1989, with enrolments increasing from previous years. The Centre moved toward incorporation during 1989 after concerns over liability. A new initiative began in 1990 to welcome newcomers to the area and discussions were held with the Barwon Prison regarding local community involvement in teaching and recreational activities. The Centre lost considerable invested funds in the collapse of the Pyramid Building Society, and the playroom ran at a loss, placing financial pressure on the Centre.
A temporary Childcare Registration Certificate was received in 1991 after improvements to the playroom and the implementation of more strict guidelines on the operation of childcare services. The Centre was in dire financial circumstances - a loan of funds was sought from the Shire of Corio and more stringent policies on expenditure were implemented to reduce operating costs. The Centre was finally incorporated in 1992. A Victoria First Funding Initiative grant was obtained to run an office skills course for unemployed women. A total of 61 courses were run in term 2, however this was reduced in subsequent terms due to the pressures felt by staff with such a large workload. A move was made to use volunteer rather than paid staff for the playroom childcare services, along with other money saving initiatives. As part of the Skillshare training program for long term unemployed youth, an extra worker was gained for 8 months through a Brotherhood of St. Laurence sponsorship. The School Holiday Program, which had been taken over by the YMCA, was handed back to the Centre in December 1992.
Attendance at youth group activities was down in 1993, and a three-year-old kindergarten program was being investigated. The Lara Baptist Church was using the Centre's hall and had grown in size to approximately 100 in size, providing a good source of income from hall hire. The Lara Happenings continued to be published, being printed at the Gordon Technical College and compiled with the help of a team of volunteers. The Centre's provision of short, intensive, skills-based courses to adults was beneficial to the community as they provided a pathway to the workplace, including a Year 10 English program and an office skills course. A serious setback was received in May 1993 when the Department of Health and Community Services cut its funding for the Centre by 48%, effectively halving the Coordinator's paid hours from thirty to fifteen hours per week. As a result of government restructuring, the Centre had to apply to the Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) for approval and funding to run further education courses. The new kindergarten service was fully booked, whilst the youth activities suffered from a lack of response.
In 1994 community classes struggled due to lack of enrolments resulting the cancellation of fifteen classes. Funding was received to run a workplace literacy program for elders, a childcare assistants course and the VCE Health Unit 2. Upon receipt of a capital works grant, renovation was carried out on the playroom to make two smaller rooms into one large room, in response to growing numbers. An open day was held at the Duck Ponds School with 195 children in attendance. Local schools, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Lara Progress Association all indicated their desire to make use of the Duck Ponds School facility. A significant amount of money was misappropriated by a temporary employee of the Centre, the majority being recovered, however this incident led to tighter controls on banking and receipting. At the end of 1994, the Centre had regained a sound financial position with income significantly outweighing expenditure.
In 1995, negotiations took place with the body known as 'Adult, Community and Further Education (ACFE), Geelong' in relation to the provision of hobby and interest courses - vocational courses were offered through funding from DEET. ACFE Geelong was renamed Geelong Adult Training and Education (GATE), an organisation with which the Centre would have increased involvement. The occasional childcare and kindergarten services continue to experience difficulties in being financially self-supporting. The kindergarten playroom was temporarily closed after the Department of Human Services removed its childcare funding, whilst other programs also experienced financial difficulties. The Centre donated money to a number of community groups, including the scouts, the Duck Ponds School, the Lara Heritage Festival committee and the Fire Brigade.
The school holiday program, creche and kindergarten continued operation into 1997, whilst the profitability of hall hire and the Lara Happenings allowed donations to other Lara community groups once again. The Centre was pleased that the school holiday program ran within budget, and it was involved in the planning of a BMX track and a skateboard ramp. Centre facilities received a face lift from the City of Greater Geelong in the form of repainting the building's exterior.
Committee and staff upheaval in 1998 posed challenges for the Centre, however these issues were overcome whilst continuing to support a range of worthwhile projects. The production of the Lara Happenings was computerised, and policy review and development was undertaken. Regular meetings for the youth group ceased, however new initiatives were investigated for programs involving Lara's youth. Of 18 classes run, 12 were 'fee for service' hobby and interest classes, 3 were funded by 'Adult, Community and Further Education' and 3 were 'free community access' programs. There was excellent feedback from the computer-training program which used just two training computers, however renovations were commencing on the 'back office' to convert it into a computer training venue. Bus trips continued, including excursions to the casino, a tulip festival and a variety of shows in Melbourne. Advertising to promote childcare services was successful, with both occasional care and the three-year-old kindergarten growing steadily.
In 1999, a community development grant from the City of Greater Geelong was obtained for the provision of computer classes for seniors and training for the Committee of Management. Due to losses from the childcare services department, a decision was made to close the kindergarten whilst continuing the provision of occasional childcare. The Centre gained a worker for 6 months through the government's new 'Work for the Dole' program, whilst efforts were underway to revive the school holiday program. The 'Lakeland group' were invited to form a Lakeland Development sub-committee in the Centre. The BMX track project had been cancelled, whilst overwhelming support existed for a skateboard ramp, with Austin Park being the site favoured by the police. An Adult, Community and Further Education grant for $3250 was received for General Adult Programs.
The year 2000 saw many people attending classes, particularly aerobics and art, whilst there was a boom in the number of children using childcare services at the start of the year. A senior citizens' dance and a 'rave night' for youth were held successfully. Despite a survey indicating community support for a school holiday program, numbers were disappointing. Adult and Community Education (ACE) funding was sought as part of a cluster of six organisations comprised of CREATE (lead agency), Norlane and Rosewall neighbourhood houses, YWCA and Wathaurong Aboriginal Cooperative, collectively known as the Northern Community Education Network (NCEN). The clustered approach to funding was intended to permit strategic partnerships to enhance marketing, information technology use, data collection, local and regional education and training needs analysis, and the provision of vocational advice, guidance and support services to learners in ACE funded courses. Other funding opportunities were provided through City of Greater Geelong community development grants, the new 'Community Care Division, Neighbourhood House Coordination Program' and the State Library of Victoria's 'Skills.net' funding which aimed to improve access to on-line services in target communities. 'Connected ACE' funding was received to prepare the existing computer network at the Centre for expansion. Computer classes in the evening were booked out. The NCEN acquired the services of a worker who was to support the 'NCEN' member organisations' in areas such as marketing, statistical data collection and analysis, and cooperative program development between the Centres. New Residents Kits and a Community Directory were also developed. Traineeship positions were established in childcare and cleaning within the Centre.
In 2001 the computer room was equipped with new computers, whilst there were approximately 50 enrolments for a new Belly Dancing workshop. The school holiday program 'broke even' and the popularity of the childcare facility caused it to be extended to an additional day per week. Funding from the City of Greater Geelong enabled workshops to be run to develop policies and procedures, review the constitution, develop a strategic plan and train volunteers and the Committee of Management, following an ACFE eligibility audit which found the Centre lacking in the area of policy and procedures.
The NCEN cluster arrangement had not met the expectations of the Centre, and the Committee decided to exit the current cluster arrangement and submit an expression of interest to the cluster to which Geelong Adult Training and Education (GATE) belonged to be a willing partner for the next funding period.
The Centre was accepted into the Central cluster in 2002. At this time, the Centre was in partnership with GATE (programs and traineeships), the Geelong Ethnic Community Council Multicultural Employment Program (for the Community Job Program), Youth Services Unit (youth participation and suicide prevention), City of Greater Geelong (suicide prevention), Central cluster (Adult, Community and Further Education), Barwon Network, and the 'Barwon PCP Alliance' (data collection and dissemination relative). For Youth Week, the Centre ran a program named 'BIG.DAY.IN@LARA' which was a resounding success, as was the trip to the Begonia Festival in Ballarat as part of the Seniors Festival, with over 100 'seniors' involved in the trip. The children's playground was redeveloped and the 'Celebrating out Past, Meeting our Future' project was undertaken with the appointment of a project worker to write about the development of the Centre as reflected in the minutes of meetings over the twenty years of operation. The previously successful Integration Aide course was run, along with other classes. The Centre was involved with a number of different agencies in the establishment of Crisis Response teams following a number of tragic suicides in the Lara community. The Centre also provided accredited modules, such as Introduction to Community Services, which were designed to lead participants along pathways to formal training and relevant qualifications for work. The Centre continued to operate on a sound financial basis, with continued funding from the principal funding bodies and donations from the Lara Lions Club and Lara Masonic Lodge to the Centre's childcare services used to purchase much needed equipment.
The Lara Community Centre has now operated for over 20 years, making a valuable contribution to the Lara district community. It is through the hard work and generosity of volunteers, staff and the Committee of Management that the Centre has been able to offer training and education programs, childcare services, community information, social outings and a range of other services. Funding from government agencies, the donations of community groups and the support of the Lara community for the Centre's activities have permitted the growth and development of the Centre, through times of financial hardship and organisational upheaval.
The Community Centre would like to thank those groups and individuals who have been involved in the past and looks forward to your involvement in helping to create a a bright future for the Lara community together.