Financial strain has forced Hunter Wetlands Centre to seek multi-level government support for a comprehensive business review to ensure the park’s long-term viability.
The centre has tightened its belt in recent months, including opting not to replace an outgoing CEO until its “financial position improves”.
It comes after consecutive yearly losses, which has forced the board to take an external look at the centre’s business model.
“It’s got to the point where the Wetlands Centre and its board has said ‘right, we need to have a long hard think about how we’re operating and look at how we can come up with a new operating model that’s sustainable into the future’,” chairman David Crofts said.
The centre has struggled with rising operating costs.
“The cost of being an organisation these days has become greater because of things like insurances, maintaining good work, health and safety systems, and compliance with those systems.”
Garnering support for the “community-run” facility has also proven tougher.
“Government grants have become not only harder to get, but a lot more specific,” he said. “Virtually all grants these days are to do capital works, rather than support an organisation. And similarly, corporate sponsorship is becoming harder to get.”
Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery said the amount of money to keep the organisation running was “minor” and that the centre “already runs on a shoestring budget”.
“The Hunter Wetlands Centre is a treasured local institution that features heavily on school calendars and among local groups keen to learn more and contribute to our environment,” she said.
Ms Hornery said she would “continue to engage with the NSW Government to secure the resources needed to maintain the operation of the wetlands”.
Newcastle City Council have also been consulted about the centre’s plight.
“Council met with the Wetlands earlier this year,” a council spokesperson said.
“This meeting was relatively high level without any specific request of Council being made. That said, Council is supportive of the Wetlands continued operation and has encouraged them to apply for funding under our grants and sponsorship programs.”
While hoping to move away from a business model that relies on ad-hoc grants, Mr Crofts said a review would determine the best way forward.
He says the Wetlands hold unique value to Newcastle.
“It’s not just a place that people visit and hold dear to their hearts, it’s somewhere where they come and contribute,” Mr Crofts said.
Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, told the Herald on Tuesday he hopes to “soon announce collaborative support” for the review.