Playgroup at a loss

Travis and Penelope Martino with other members of Old Bar Playgroup outside Rushby Casino Hall. They are now on the search for a new venue.
Travis and Penelope Martino with other members of Old Bar Playgroup outside Rushby Casino Hall. They are now on the search for a new venue.

OLD Bar Playgroup is in desperate need of a new venue after representatives say they were forced out of Rushby Casino Hall, which the playgroup has been using for the past 40 years.

"It's so sad a loss," said playgroup coordinator Tanya O'Brien.

"We just don't understand it."

Now the playgroup, which caters for 40 children and 25 families, is struggling to find a local venue that can accommodate them with their storage needs for their craft, educational toys and items, along with low rent costs.

Club Old Bar's manager Tony Jones has allowed the playgroup to use the club as a venue until the end of March, while the playgroup finds a new location, but this is proving difficult.

The playgroup committee is calling on Greater Taree City Council to renege on its decision to hand over Rushby Casino to Lani's, saying it is no longer a community venue, nor is it community accessible.

Tanya believes conditions of the signed lease agreement have been breached, which included the directive that Lani's, operator of the nearby caravan park, were to honour arrangements with regular hall users until June 30, and that hire charges remain constant until June 30 this year.

It also stated the lessee (Lani's) would not unreasonably restrict access by any Old Bar community based group.

Council handed over management of Rushby Casino and the Old Bar swimming pool to Lani's late last year.

In the months preceding their decision, discussion between Greater Taree City councillors at council meetings showed they considered continued community access to the facilities a priority.

The playgroup meets on a Friday and had been using Rushby since the playgroup established in 1975.

Tanya said they loved it at Rushby (which was established in 1948) because it was accessible, beside the pool, the playground and the park.

Since they say its access to Rushby was stopped, the playgroup has approached numerous venues in Old Bar seeking a new home, but has had no luck so far finding somewhere that can accommodate them.

Tanya said the playgroup feels Lani's has been trying to push them out since January and claim they received "threats" of rent increases of $80 an hour (rent is currently $5 to $10 an hour) as well as "hall inaccessibility".

In a letter the playgroup has written to council, it states that during January, which is the playgroup's "shutdown time", they were contacted by Lani's management and advised their toys had been relocated and the playgroup needed to come and deal with them.

At that time they contacted council and Tanya said executive leader corporate support Laura Black advised them not to move out of the premises as Lani's had signed an agreement to continue and honour all community hirers of Rushby Casino hall.

Then on February 14 they were approached by Lani's management who advised the hall would be inaccessible for two weeks due to major electrical and rewiring that had to be done.

The playgroup accepted this on good faith, but as the end of the two weeks approached, the playgroup made contact with Lani's who informed them the hall was inaccessible indefinitely and they thought the playgroup had moved to a new location.

"How could we when all our playgroup's items are in the hall," said Tanya.

Following this the playgroup made the decision to remove their items from the hall.

Tanya said that on arrival at the hall they saw a projector set up in the middle of the hall and two very large speakers connected to long extension cords.

"The hall was not unusable as had been told to us," said Tanya.

Further conversations with other regular hall user groups, who were advised in February the hall was inaccessible indefinitely also, indicated each group was given a different reason why the hall was inaccessible.

The has led Tanya and the playgroup members to question the truth behind what they had been told by Lani's management about the reason behind the hall's inaccessibility.

At the time of coming to the Times, Tanya said they were yet to hear from Greater Taree City Council in response to their letter, and phone calls hadn't been returned.

"It feels like no one cares."

"(Council) might as well have demolished the hall as they were originally considered doing, then at least the locals would have been given a larger beach park to play and enjoy.

"The community would then be able to use that crown land unlike this supposed to be hireable community hall."

The playgroup is grateful to Club Old Bar for offering a temporary location while they try to sort out another venue.

Tanya said there are fears the playgroup might fold if they cannot find a venue.


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