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July 7, 2022

Will Wardell CORE be forced to move on?

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Interior of Wardell War Memorial Hall last month, with CORE in full swing. Photo supplied.

Wardell’s Community Organised Resilience Effort (CORE) has been one of the stand-out good news stories following the devastating floods, but now CORE has been asked to leave the Wardell War Memorial Hall.

Situated beside the Richmond River, downstream of Coraki, the Wardell community was hit very hard by the March floods. CORE sprang up in response to the crisis, with the hall becoming a central distribution point for goods and services, as well as providing food and emotional support.

Although this crucial support role is ongoing, and has been acknowledged at local and state levels, Wardell CORE has now been told to vacate the hall prior to the federal election. The lease on the building expires in the middle of the year, with Ballina Shire Council expected to return the hall to the control of the Wardell Progress Association, who say maintenance work is required on the building.

A truckload of donations arrived from Forster this week, welcomes by CORE volunteers and Wardell community members. Photo supplied.

Recovery ongoing

Yesterday, the Echo spoke to CORE’s Venetia Scott and Joel Orchard.

Ms Scott says there’s still a ‘never ending’ stream of things being dropped off and being collected, most recently a truckload of furniture and other goods donated by the people of Forster, near Taree.

She said although the Wardell community had less than 24 hours notice that the truck was coming, there were 25 cars waiting to pick up the donations.

Joel Orchard says the donations are a ‘shifting landscape’, with less food and general supplies coming through, and more furniture and larger items to replace what’s been lost by locals. Mr Orchard says CORE’s looming eviction from the Wardell War Memorial has added more stress for all concerned, with ‘shifting goalposts’ as dates have been moved forward from July to this month.

‘It’s increasing pressure to have us wind up and move on without being provided any suitable alternative as the first step,’ he said. ‘We feel that the order of process is completely misaligned with community need.’

Wardell locals collect donated goods from CORE this week. Photo supplied.

The suggestion is that CORE relocate to Ballina, which is a fair way from Wardell at the best of times, although part of the same council area, and even more inaccessible with many people having lost vehicles in the flood.

‘The idea that we can remove all of that local support here, and then just be aggregated in with Ballina where the majority of the demographic that are affected don’t live is outrageous,’ said Mr Orchard.

Small town politics putting lives at risk?

Mr Orchard says other buildings which are being offered to CORE are far more flood-affected than the War Memorial Hall, which was being used only sporadically for community events until its latest incarnation as a crisis management hub.

Wardell CORE team Anne, Lou, Mary, Anissa, Markey, Joel, Venetia and Molly the dog at Wardell Hall. Photo supplied.

Venetia Scott told the Echo there are other possible locations for the election to be held, and CORE is already sharing the space with other users, such as people running yoga and Pilates classes.

Mr Orchard says it’s an ‘unrealistic reason to relocate all that we’re offering’.

He said nobody wants to take the blame for pushing CORE away, ‘but both parties are hand-balling it to each other, and neither of them are being supportive of what we foresee as the community’s needs.’

The main organisations involved are Resilience NSW and Ballina Shire Council, with the Wardell Progress Association also recently drawing public support from Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader to return the hall to its previous role.

Joel Orchard says the time required to prepare business case scenarios and explore alternative locations is taking CORE’s energy away from helping the Wardell community, and in any case ‘the timeframe is far too short to actually organize anything.’

CORE’s Joel Orchard. Photo Tree Faerie.

What can be done?

In terms of Ballina Council, Mr Orchard suggests ‘there’s got to be clauses within their lease agreements, that they can allocate essential services to communities in times of need.’ He also says there’s been no process for expressions of interest for new lease holders.

‘They’re basically honoring the existing lease holders’ ongoing tenancy, rather than putting it to what would be perceived as best use of the asset.’

Mr Orchard said they have been gathering numerous statements of support from the Wardell community, which were being forwarded to council.

He said he was concerned about divisions deepening in Wardell following the flood crisis, particularly between those who are relatively comfortable and those who are doing it tough.

‘CORE is a really positive story… we don’t want to drag this flood affected and traumatized community through a process which is just divisive and unnecessary.’

CORE’s Venetia Scott and friend. Photo Mia Forrest.

Emergency not over

Venetia Scott said the wider region needed to be reminded that Wardell was still suffering, and in need of all the assistance it could get.

‘You can’t perceive it from street level, but people are living in their garages, in their cars, in tents; in homes that don’t have electricity, or hot running water. You know, they’re living without creature comforts, and soft furnishings. And life is really hard,’ she said.

‘The recovery is really slow. There’s no end to this in sight, and I think it’s starting to feel incredibly worrying to people. I’m deeply concerned about the health and well being of people who are living in those conditions.

‘I think that they’re going to need ongoing support and community space for a very long time to come,’ said Ms Scott.

While the long days and weeks have taken a toll on CORE’s volunteers, ‘It’s a part of their recovery, too, and enabling them to help their community get back on their feet,’ said Ms Scott. ‘I think the opportunity we provide for the community to help itself is also really valuable.’

Richmond River in flood at Wardell, 5 March 2022. Photo David Lowe.

Joel Orchard says, ‘Council included, we’ve been recognized for providing an extraordinarily successful and professional community led recovery process.

‘We’ve been invited to provide statements on the process to the state level inquiry, we’ve had quite a number of MLCs and members of parliament come through and acknowledge the work that we’ve done here, we’ve been invited to participate in the consultation process with Price Waterhouse Coopers, who are reviewing community led recovery efforts.

‘So in every way, we’re acknowledged as being a really successful outfit here,’ he said.

‘What we’ve tried to do is create a culture of care and we are just here to facilitate the community to do that for themselves. We feel widely supported and endorsed by the community members,’ said Mr Orchard.

‘It literally is just a small minority that feels that they should be able to make decisions on everybody else’s behalf.’

Ballina Shire Council will be debating the issue at the Finance and Facilities meeting on 19 May, and also at its Ordinary Meeting on 26 May.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Wardell, along with Coraki and Woodburn, has been invaded by outsiders who have caused no end of trouble. These people should be sent packing and the communities allowed to get on with their recovery process without interference. It is sad to see communities being divided from outside when they need to unite.

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