Melville City Playgroup faces eviction with Heathcote Cultural Precinct redevelopment

Melville City Playgroup president Nichola Tomkins (far right) with some of the members of the group and their children.
Melville City Playgroup president Nichola Tomkins (far right) with some of the members of the group and their children.

THE long-running Melville City Playgroup is facing eviction and will consider dissolving at the end of the year as a result of plans to redevelop the Heathcote Cultural Precinct in Applecross.

The playgroup has occupied Swan House at Heathcote on a peppercorn lease since 2002 and although membership has taken a hit in recent years, it still runs three sessions each weekday catering to almost 60 families.

On weekends, the playgroup rents out the space for children’s birthday parties and hosted 27 such events in the past financial year.

In February, Melville council endorsed plans for the future of the Heathcote Cultural Precinct and the City is currently seeking registrations of interest for the space, which includes a variety of buildings on the 2000sq m site.

Melville City Playgroup president Nichola Tomkins said the group had been told that unless it agrees to share space, it must vacate Swan House at the end of the year.

The decision comes despite a think tank tasked with imagining the future Heathcote Cultural Precinct recommending that the playgroup be retained.

“The City has been quite genuine in trying to help us find alternative accommodation and they’ve offered us a few other options at community centres in the area but have made it very clear it has to be shared use,” Ms Tomkins said.

“At the moment we have a big range of toys and play equipment spread throughout a number of rooms and having to put everything out and then pack it all away at the end of each session would be unsustainable.”

Melville City Playgroup secretary Gemma Jahn said she and her three young boys had spent most Tuesday mornings at Swan House for the past seven years.

“Because we offer three sessions every weekday, our members are united in the belief that a single-use facility is most appropriate.

“Being able to walk into the building and have all of the toys and materials in position ready for use is a key attraction of our playgroup and it is also one of the reasons why we have so many parents hiring the venue for their children’s birthday parties.”

Melville chief executive Shayne Silcox said he had explained the City’s preferred model of shared spaces for community groups in a personal meeting with the playgroup.

“Of the 15 possible sessions of the playgroup many, in 2016, were either empty or had very low numbers,” he said.

“Through a membership drive a small increase has been possible.”

Dr Silcox said the City had also offered to cover the costs of relocating the playgroup’s cubby house, shade sails and children’s equipment and to facilitate a merger with the Bull Creek Community Centre Playgroup, Kardinya Murdoch Playgroup or Attadale Playgroup.

Ms Tomkins said the Attadale Playgroup could potentially accommodate all of Melville City Playgroup’s current members but that some would not be willing to travel the extra distance.

“If we do go down that route, Attadale would also be at capacity and what happens after that, especially with projected population growth in the area,” she said.

Playgroup WA chief disappointed at eviction

PLAYGROUP WA chief executive David Zarb said that until recently Melville City Playgroup was one of the biggest and most successful in the state.

He said he understood the City of Melville’s desire to revitalise the Heathcote Cultural Precinct but that he was disappointed the playgroup could not be accommodated on site.

“At 60 members it is not one of the largest anymore but it is longstanding and numbers go up and down.

“By the same token, it is hard to attract new people to a venue that you know you are being kicked out of.”

Mr Zarb said he hoped financial considerations were not the sole reason for evicting the playgroup.

“All over WA we are seeing councils putting prices up or expecting playgroups to take more responsibility for the costs of maintenance.

“Playgroups make local communities liveable for young families, far from being just a cost drain on local government they actively contribute to the surrounding area.

“We know kids that go to playgroup usually do better in school and that they build important support networks for families.”