Friday, May 13, 2016

Ivanhoe Estate Tenant Group - Ryde Council's Volunteer Group of the Year, 2016.

Cross posted from the Brown Couch: former Ivanhoe Estate resident Marie Sillars talks about the strength of a community, the shock of relocation, and how to ensure all is not lost to "renewal".

My time with the Ivanhoe Estate Tenant Group Inc. started some 6 years ago and I am a Founder Member of the Group. We established a Community Centre (pictured) and started organising BBQs, meetings and getting involved in our community.

Four years ago we heard (on TV News) that Ivanhoe was to be demolished as it had gone past "its use by date" and very quickly we started to gather information, attend meetings, take part in Community Reference Group meetings and even became involved with a Parliamentary Committee on public housing. At the same time the group were running craft classes (we have knitted and crocheted scores of blankets, beanies, scarves etc. which will be donated to a homeless shelter & local hospital) computers for the elderly, breakfasts at the Centre, established a community garden (tenants were invited to take any herbs or veggies that they needed) and generally made ourselves busy with the day to day matters that a community needs. We had Oz Harvest for 2 years where we distributed up to 150 kilos of food on a Saturday afternoon and we had the greatest fun. Most of the Oz Harvest Committee were over the age of 60 and it was a great way to make sure that the elderly tenants had enough fruit, vegetables and groceries to keep them going until the next Saturday. Rain, hail and shine we worked our way through the food with an incredible energy for people of our age.

We knew the time was coming when the final decision would be made but somehow just kept working away trying not to think about the inevitable time when the FACS people would deliver the letters and we would then we would have to decide how we would deal with this. Late last year the letters were delivered and even though we knew it was coming the whole place went into shock and we were called to a meeting at the Community Centre where we were introduced to the officers who would become our Relocation Officers. It was an awful day and it had quite a negative effect upon the tenants, especially the elderly folk. We decided on that day that the Committee would go ahead "business as usual" and try hard to get through what was to become a difficult period. As Christmas at Ivanhoe came and went we all knew that this would probably be our last Christmas together as a group, and the atmosphere around the Centre changed. People were sad and a bit down and together with the Salvation Army on the Estate we tried very hard to keep people's spirits up and tried to make a positive side of the relocations.

As time went on and we were still attending meetings the interviews with our respective Relocation Officers were conducted and we were then told to wait as the Officers searched for places for us. As this has been happening tenants started to move away and so I contacted some people outside of the Estate to help establish a "Footprints" Committee to gather information, pictures and stories about the Estate so that when the new places are built, people there will know that there was a thriving, exciting community existing before. Ryde Council, Salvation Army, Macquarie University, FACS, and many of our wonderful supporters have come on board with this idea to create media, films, interviews and many other ways to show how a great Community CAN work and that Public Housing Tenants can work in a positive and intelligent way to come together and be proud of what they have achieved.

Two weeks ago I myself had to move and I am not very far away from the Ivanhoe Estate so I am able to keep craft classes happening on Mondays for those who are still there. The Committee who had worked so hard at Oz Harvest had started to move away also and we will all keep in touch in the future. As this Community fades away we are keen to let people know that through the Footprints Programme the Ivanhoe Committee will not be forgotten.

Last week (5th May 2016) some of the Committee attended a Volunteer of the Year Evening with Ryde Council and I was so very honoured to be nominated as Volunteer of the Year. I did not win but the Ivanhoe Estate Tenant Group DID win Volunteer Group of the Year 2016 and I have to say it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Even through our times of sadness it just shows that a community such as the Ivanhoe Estate can shine through, smile and move on to other communities. As they say "Onwards and Upwards" but in the end it has been a great achievement and one I will never forget!

Marie Sillars May 2016

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