By Colin MacGillivray
DISADVANTAGED, culturally-diverse and special needs people living in the Whittlesea region will benefit from a new facility to be built at Mernda Recreation Reserve.
At an ordinary council meeting earlier this month, City of Whittlesea administrators approved an application by Preston Reservoir Adult Community Education, PRACE, to build a temporary community facility at the reserve.
The facility will enable PRACE to more effectively deliver a range of services including Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning, VCAL, courses, accredited courses, education pathways and employment support in the region.
PRACE spokesman Paddy McVeigh said PRACE had already been delivering services in Whittlesea for more than 10 years in partnership with Neighbourhood Houses Victoria and Whittlesea Community Connections.
“Providing community education and programs in the Whittlesea local government area is not new to us, but setting up a PRACE site is,” he said.
“We are very much in the foundation stage of service set up, but very excited about the prospect of having a base at the northern end of Whittlesea.”
Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed 416 City of Whittlesea residents between the ages of 15 and 24 were classified as disengaged in 2016.
A council report said the number was likely to increase significantly due to the educational and employment disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It identified a ‘long-standing need for an intervention service for vulnerable young people and additional adult education opportunities’.
Council administrators unanimously supported PRACE’s bid to build the facility in Mernda.
Administrator chair Lydia Wilson said the adult education centre would support vulnerable young people in the area who were struggling to stay in education.
“PRACE has been working with youth and adults experiencing disadvantage for the past 25 years in Melbourne’s northern suburbs,” she said.
“Many young people from the City of Whittlesea have been travelling significant distances to attend PRACE classes. The site at Mernda Recreation Reserve will enable them to receive education closer to home.
“This location enables us to partner with Whittlesea Community Connections and Mernda Community House, which are already located at the reserve, to provide education opportunities for young people and adults.”
Mr McVeigh said the site for the new facility was selected after a comprehensive review of all available sites.
“The actual location is ideal as it is situated very closely to Mernda Station,” he said.
“This will allow participants to travel in from both ends of the LGA, as a bus service coming from Whittlesea township links to Mernda station and the Mernda line runs into [metropolitan Melbourne].
“Also, being situated close to the Mernda Neighbourhood House will allow us to provide services that support the great work already being provided by Whittlesea Community Connections.
“They are an incredible orgaiastion doing very critical work and we want to be a good neighbour.”
Mr McVeigh said 10 PRACE staff would be on site at the facility each day and estimated the facility would support at least 100 Whittlesea residents annually.
“The timing to bring employment support services, further education support services and short courses delivered on site that will focus on skills shortages post-pandemic will enable us to make a meaningful contribution to the Whittlesea community. We’re in the business of hope,” he said.
The estimated cost of the temporary facility is $1.4 million, to be built by PRACE with the assistance of a Federal Government grant.
The project is due to be completed by early next year.