Community programs including a mobile preschool will return to the former Wollombi Public School site after the Wollombi School Community Education Trust secured an ongoing short-term licence to manage the site.
The school site was slated for sale by the NSW Government last November and WSCET was given its marching orders at the end of the summer school holidays.
But the Department of Education and Communities has since granted renewed access to WSCET, a not-for-profit local organisation that was set up after the school was closed in December 2014.
The organisation hosted more than 300 events in less than two years, including the Hunter Mobile Preschool, history talks, indigenous programs, art workshops, film nights and prenatal classes, while continuing its campaign to retain the school site in public ownership.
That campaign attracted determined support – many, including Cessnock MP Clayton Barr, have lobbied hard to the changing leadership in Macquarie Street.
WSCET president Frank Ganino said returning to the school site was great news, but that the organisation is hoping for “a long-term arrangement that will enable proper planning of broad community use of the school site, with learning and education for adults and young people a core component”.
Mr Ganino said it was particularly pleasing that the Hunter Mobile Preschool will be able to return to the school premises in April.
“The number of preschool-age children within the large geographical area of Wollombi Valley is growing steadily as more families move here,” Mr Ganino said.
“Their future educational needs should be in the mix when it comes to long-term state planning.
“Not selling off the school means it could reopen for public primary education if and when needed.
“It could also function as a dual site – a primary/preschool and a community resource.
“Selling it means that chance disappears.”
Aside from preschool education, current and planned uses for the site include community group meetings, art/craft classes, music, local history, meditation, therapeutic massage, theatre rehearsals, readings and workshops, movie screenings, and Indigenous stories and culture.
Healthcare services and education are high on the planning agenda.
“We’ve always envisaged the school as a vibrant, thriving community resource,” Mr Ganino said.
“It offers a unique set of flexible indoor and outdoor spaces, for small and larger scale events, that can be provided at low rates.”
At present, net revenue from the Wollombi Easter Market is WSCET’s main source of income, which helps defray costs, subsidises non-profit events and provides fund raising opportunities for other local community groups.
The Easter market will be held on Monday, April 17 at the Wollombi saleyards.
Mr Ganino said WSCET invites people to put forward ideas for future activities that benefit the local community and visitors to Wollombi.
“While we want to foster learning in a broad sense, many other compatible uses can be accommodated, including longer term courses and workshops that would attract visitors and provide opportunities for local business services,” he said.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or find ‘Wollombi School Community Education Trust’ on Facebook.