Friday, June 20, 2014

Agitated at Claymore

Julie Foreman, Tenants' Union Executive Officer and previously a community worker at Campbelltown, revisits the social housing estate at Claymore.

I was at Claymore in southern Sydney  last week. I had worked with the community some five years ago and have remained a friend of many of the active volunteers there.  As I drove into Claymore I passed a building that had housed in succession, at least seven different NGOs over a 14 year period. 

I had reason to reflect on this because I was attending a celebration of the Claymore Community Laundromat and Coffee Shop which had been opened for over 10 years.  The Laundromat is managed and staffed by community members.  It took two years of development work by the community before it even opened but it has stood the test of time.  St Vincent de Paul Society provides a small amount of funds to enable a part-time volunteer coordinator to be employed.

The Laundromat does many things. It provides practical services: washing machines, dryers and a coffee shop.  It also is a gathering place, a place to share community information, social support and training.

I think all of us in government and community organisations have much to learn from Claymore’s Laundromat.  Claymore is also a public housing estate.  When attempting to engage in community building with public or social housing tenants, government and non government organisations think they have the answers and know what processes to follow.  I think the community knows the solution and how to achieve it in a far more practical and sustainable way.  Our job is to listen, really listen and support the local knowledge and skill. If we want to learn how to do this I am sure the women of Claymore would be happy to teach us.

While in Claymore I also caught up with representatives from the local resident group who provided me with an up date on the latest ‘redevelopment’ proposals for the estate.  I have lost count of the number of plans for Claymore that have stopped and started over the last 10 years.

Anyway, the current plan is to sell off land and rebuild private medium density dwellings and reduce the number of social housing dwellings.  The social housing will not be replaced elsewhere. The community were not consulted on this prior to the announcement by the then Minister for Family and Community Service (FACS), Prue Goward.
Urban Growth [previously Landcom] are responsible for the redevelopment and have made a Development Application (DA) to Campbelltown City Council. They and FACS have established a Claymore Information Group (CIG) which residents and community workers attend.  Residents were recruited with the express purpose of being precinct representatives.  The representatives have to promise not to talk to media and are told not to pass all information onto their precinct residents.  In addition the information provided to members is often vague or incorrect and meetings are cancelled at short notice. So questions asked by residents of their representatives go unanswered. This has created much frustration for the representatives and residents, forcing some reps to resign or feel coopted. Other local community groups report feeling excluded from the process.

The residents are not against redevelopment; in fact they believe it is necessary.  It is the process that concerns them and the decisions made as a result.

Currently Urban Growth  is renovating and updating the areas around the precinct that will house private residents, even though other precincts were due for, and indeed more in need of, renovation.  This need had been identified in earlier consultations and plans.
Urban Growth has asked residents involved with the process to sign a submission to Council supporting all aspects of the DA.  In fact they provided a letter for them to sign.  The letter mentioned in detail the community infrastructure to be improved –a  shopping centre upgrade, bus route improvements etc but was silent on issues such as social housing, design or density.  Urban Growth advised residents that signing the submission would expedite the infrastructure that the community wanted.

Of course they also said that anyone could make their own submission.  However I imagine that those who didn’t sign might feel they were letting their community down.  

Such processes do nothing to build community trust or to lead to best outcomes.

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