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    COMMUNITY ENVISAGES A FUTURE FOR THE FOOTSCRAY HOSPITAL SITE

    Date:

    By Kate Breen, Pierre Vairo, Angela Ashley-Chiew, Ena Ninkovic

    In 1920 the Footscray Progress Association borrowed £50 to secure five and a half acres of land in Footscray and started a process of what was to eventually become the Footscray Hospital.

    Fast forward 100 years and a group of equally passionate inner-west locals began to think about what this vast tract of land could be transformed into when the hospital moves into its shiny new premises in 2025.

    A social media post musing on the future of the hospital site on a local Facebook group generated conversations amongst locals and led to a handful of us sitting down at the Chestnut Tree bookshop in West Footscray and deciding to undertake engagement to develop a community-led concept for the site.

    With little resources we designed and held three community engagement sessions and had over 150 residents contribute their ideas and ‘votes’ for prioritised community, retail, housing and recreational uses.

    We had a lot of long conversations with residents about the site history which includes a quarry turned rubbish tip and the now heritage listed former psychiatric ‘Brutalist’ building, with topics covering contamination issues, the critical need for new green space in the area, the different scales and types of affordable housing that a site of this scale could potentially accommodate. People had concerns  the land would be sold off to the highest bidder, and instead wanted the best outcomes for residents while attracting visitors to the area.

    As government owned land there was strong interest in ensuring emphasis on ensuring beneficial public outcomes and for ensuring that financial objectives weren’t the key driver.

    Whilst we expect – and want – the State Government and Maribyrnong Council to do their own formal and wide-ranging engagement and ideally set up a process of co-design with the community, we believe it was important to give the community the first chance to develop its own ideas.

    Despite the consultation being run entirely by volunteers, the numbers of people, comments, and the quality were all excellent, perhaps because residents weren’t sceptical that a plan was already set by government and consultation was ‘token’.  People may have also been more open to some ‘blue sky’ thinking.

    After prioritising our ideas we developed a high level concept to showcase the potential scope of outcomes, to generate more community discussion, and use as a basis to engage with government.

    Key ideas supported by the community include a recreational lake to reclaim the quarry, significant green spaces, an outdoor swimming pool, medium density housing with a strong priority for affordable housing, commercial, retail and community art spaces. Other ideas included semi-structured and informal play and sport facilities, community gardens, and spaces for markets and for the community to gather.

    We found a range of views about the former psychiatric building. As the heritage listing means it will likely stay, we asked what uses the community would envision using this concrete ‘bunker’ as one local put it. Ideas included to re-claim and transform this building into a community managed building, incorporation of health and well-being spaces, multi-cultural and reconciliation areas, performance uses and a museum. Its Gordon Street frontage and potential could be a significant opportunity for early delivery of community infrastructure that sensitively reflects on the past use of this building and embraces some of the only mature trees on the site.

    What next?

    We are widely sharing the concept with the community and have provided it to both State and Local Governments, seeking a commitment for a timely government process of consultation on the site potential and for opportunities for collaboration and site co-design with the community to determine the best outcome.

    The opportunity to transform this site and do things differently – starting with the community generating its own ideas to government – is a great reflection of the passion inner west residents have for maximising opportunities like this for the benefit of the community.

    Residents wanting to join the conversation and be kept informed on further engagement are welcome to follow ‘oldfootscrayhospital’ on Facebook or email us at oldfootscrayhospital@gmail.com.

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    Our content is a labour of love, crafted by dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the west. We encourage submissions from our community, particularly stories about your own experiences, family history, local issues, your suburb, community events, local history, human interest stories, food, the arts, and environmental matters. Below are articles created by community contributors. You can find their names in the bylines.

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