By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
Doreen RSL is on the hunt for a new home after losing its temporary meeting place.
As Victoria’s newest RSL, the club has been searching and campaigning for a permanent home since it was founded in 2017.
For three years its Friday night gatherings were held at JoJayz Cafe in Doreen, but in March 2020 the cafe closed its doors due to lockdowns before the owners eventually decided to sell. When the new owners took over, Doreen RSL president Wes Wridgway was told they would no longer be able to use the site.
New JoJayz owner Javed Ahktar told the Review he was happy for the RSL to use the space on Friday evenings, but as a venue without a liquor license they couldn’t serve alcohol, which the club requires.
“I’ve spent the better part of 2020, COVID interrupted of course, trying to find a new temporary home for the RSL and our veterans and our members, to no avail. Then obviously I’m still working towards a permanent facility for us down the track as well,” Mr Wridgway said.
With more than 200 members, Mr Wridgway said he knows community support for a permanent RSL in Doreen is there, but that they’ve been waiting on the City of Whittlesea Council support in finding a site, approving planning permits and ideally providing funding.
“I spent three years battling with councillors, which are the ones that got sacked, and I got nowhere, and now basically approaching our four-year birthday I’m now back to square one, so that’s a bit sad in the end,” he said.
Earlier this month Mr Wridgway successfully negotiated with the Laurimar Football Club to temporarily use the clubrooms at the Laurimar Power Sporting Complex for the veterans’ Friday evening gatherings, commencing April 9. But the football club only controls the site for six months of the year, while the cricket club uses it for the remainder.
Without the cricket club’s support, they would need to find a new home before the end of the year, which he said has been distressing the veterans who rely on the RSL for social connection.
“They’ve been troubled by the fact that we’ve had no home for the better part of 12 months, and if I then say after six months we’ve got no home, or we’ve got to move somewhere else, it’s going to be troubling. We’d be back to where we are now where there are no meetings and no social gatherings.”
When Mr Wridgway informed the members of the six-month stay in Laurimar, he said he received many responses of relief.
“It’s very critical that our members get to socialise with like-minded people, people that understand what we’ve done, where we’ve been, what we’ve been through … and how those military careers have affected our own personal lives, our family lives,” he said.
Despite the uncertain future, Mr Wridway is optimistic that the new Whittlesea council administrators will prioritise the construction or acquisition of a permanent site for the RSL after a meeting with administrators last week.
“That conversation was very positive and it certainly gave us some direction moving forward. I got a lot more out of that one conversation yesterday than I got out of three and a half years prior,” he said.
Now Mr Wridgway is looking for existing buildings or land on which to build.
“We have to look elsewhere and we have to either hopefully find some sort of sponsor who may be able to provide us some land that has the right zoning, maybe even sponsor us in building a facility and we rent the land back off them if we build it on top, [or] we have to reach out for sponsorship and/or funding via both State and Federal Governments and any other investors, and look, if it gets to that stage I’ll put up a GoFundMe page.”
The Doreen RSL can be contacted via phohne or email, for more information visit www.rslvic.com.au/rsl-network/victorian-map-of-all-branches/doreen.