‘Eye-catching’ Warrnambool centre open and ready to serve community
BY LERISSE SMITH
The striking new Warrnambool Salvation Army Worship and Community Centre has officially been opened, bringing much excitement to the local community.
The development of the contemporary premises in Mortlake Rd, spanning 1320 square metres with its eye-catching wall of glass and angular shaping at the front, captured the attention of local community members who eagerly anticipated its completion.
“It’s been exciting for the neighbourhood,” said Major Sally-Anne Allchin, Warrnambool Corps Officer.
“We’ve had a lot of people just walking in and marvelling at what they have seen. The builder is to be congratulated on his attention to detail. There has been a lot of interest … it’s a very beautiful spot. Original gum trees are still out the front. On a recent Sunday, while we were having morning tea, we were blessed to watch a koala walk past and climb one of the gum trees.
“The worship and community centre is on a main arterial into town, and we just feel really blessed to be in a beautiful facility that’s been purpose-built.”
The journey leading up to the official opening by Colonel Winsome Merrett on 18 November has been filled with both sentimentality and a priority of ensuring community members feel welcomed and neighbours’ voices are heard.
Six weeks before staff and the congregation moved into the new building, a team of 16 people walked around their extended neighbourhood, praying and dropping postcards into letterboxes to let people know they were coming to the area.
The neighbours whose properties backed onto the new premises were personally invited in for a tour and the opportunity to ask any questions about the site.
“That was their opportunity to be reassured that we are being common sense about what we’re doing here and that we want them to feel confident about who we are. We want them to feel confident that their future neighbours are going to be safe neighbours as well,” Sally-Anne said.
The church’s former location in Lava St for 49 years has not been forgotten, with a stained-glass window from the old building being a special feature in the new one. The decision to move came after the Lava St site was no longer fit for purpose, nor was it user-friendly for anyone with mobility issues or a pram. Initial plans were to renovate. Following costings, it was decided the better option was to relocate.
A special church service was held to commemorate the history of the Lava St building before its doors were closed.
“Worship was intentionally God-focused,” Sally-Anne said. “[It was] followed by a morning tea where we had a thank-you cake. And while the cake was being cut and handed around, we asked people to share their stories of why they were thankful for their experiences [at Lava St] and to share experiences of their time in the current building.
“We then asked people to walk out the doors for the last time; long-standing soldiers of the corps carried out the corps flag and Bible. A prayer was offered by Major Brett [Allchin] before the doors were closed for the last time.”
Many people came for that last service to share their happy and fondest memories of times spent at the church and to ensure they were there for the final one. The corps then had different people come for the first service at the new building.
“It was a reflection of firstly, curiosity, and secondly, the part that we play either in the lives of people or the potential part that we’re going to play in the lives of people,” Sally-Anne said.
“Following years of fundraising, the proceeds from the sale of the Lava St site in April last year, plus a bequest from the Bence brothers and the additional land at the rear of the new site, have meant we have been able to move in with no loan.”
The building features not only the church, a large entrance foyer, and multiple rooms of varying sizes and purposes but also office spaces that accommodate Salvos Housing Victoria, homelessness services, and Doorways emergency relief and financial counselling. The corps’ Thrift Shop remains in the middle of the town.
“The two brothers bequeathed their will to The Salvation Army Warrnambool building project because their mother was supported and assisted by the local Warrnambool Corps when she was 18 years old,” Brett said.
“This assistance so transformed her life that her sons, some 80 years later, gratefully gave all that they had to assist the local mission of the Warrnambool Corps.”
The generosity of the brothers’ gift and its impact on the local community cannot be understated.
Sally-Anne recalled how community members walked inside the door on the first Sunday service at the new premises that had not been before at church.
“We had some folks come that haven’t attended a church for decades, and we don’t even know how they knew that it was our first Sunday,” she said.
“There was a family that came who lived in the neighbourhood and had been watching the church build grow, and they came to church on the Sunday. The lady then came with a little boy to playgroup the next morning. There was another lady who lives in the neighbourhood who came in expecting to see the thrift shop here, and it wasn't, but she came and joined us for playgroup as well.”
Looking to the future, Sally-Anne said she had a vision for social housing to be built on the new premises through the Victoria Government’s Big Build program, as the land was formerly an indoor tennis centre, and space was available for such a project at the rear of the building.
The proposal would be 21 townhouses containing one, two and three-bedroom dwellings for those on the social housing list who met the requirements, assuring a safe neighbourhood for all. The aim would be to provide the occupants a ‘forever home’.
“I had this vision not to sell the land to cover costs, but to build social housing and through some processes, Housing Victoria came down, had a look and saw how big the land was that we had,” she said.
“There’s such a desperate need. There were people sleeping in cars, at the beach, in tents and caravans who were forced to move on from December 1 due to the influx of holidaymakers [at this time of year].”
Community is at the heart of the new site for Sally and Brett as The Salvation Army’s leaders in Warrnambool.
“This building was designed to build community,” Brett said. “Built so that people can feel that they are welcome to enter this space. It is as much a community meeting space as it is a place of hope and goodness, offering a practical Christian response to others. Designed with the ability to realise future possibilities in assisting others, and future-proofed with technology.”
To watch a video of the official opening, go to the ‘Warrnambool Salvos’ Facebook page and scroll down to the post on 18 November.