Mission Australia’s storm damaged Stockton early learning centre seeks community help

Urgent: Ben Williams said a solution was needed "before we lose the playground to the ocean." Picture: Mission Australia
Urgent: Ben Williams said a solution was needed "before we lose the playground to the ocean." Picture: Mission Australia

MISSION Australia is seeking community donations to help it relocate the storm-damaged playground at its Stockton early learning centre, so it can “buy time” and keep its doors open while planning to move elsewhere in the suburb.

The charity’s general manager of early learning Ben Williams said it was working against the clock to raise $40,000 by June 30 to relocate some of the playground’s artificial turf and equipment from the rear of the centre to the northern side of the building. It has also applied for grants.

“Regardless of whether your family attends the centre or not, all children deserve the best and we’re trying to ensure that even with all of the barriers and obstacles, children can come to this service every day and have the best possible experience and environment to play in,” Mr Williams said.

“Our centre is the only site that offers early learning within Stockton. If we have to pack up and go it’s going to impact on 96 children from 80 families.”

Mr Williams said the centre had only recently completed a $170,000 refurbishment of its playground when storms lashed the coastline in mid January, eroding the beach up to the playground’s external fence.

The centre closed while engineers assessed the area and recommended the installation of a temporary fence, which has cut the playground in half and ensures the unstable area is not used.

National regulations require the centre to have a certain amount of outdoor space.

It is operating under a waiver.

“Without this work, more surges would be devastating for the service,” he said.

“Another two metres of erosion would be inside our [external] fence line and the land would start to slip and we would not be able to recover it. The area and fencing would be claimed by the ocean.” 

Mr Williams said its development application to relocate the playground was before Newcastle City Council and awaiting approval. The work would provide a 15 metre buffer between the centre and the erosion zone.

“This will buy us some time to continue to be on the site to June 2020, when our lease from Newcastle City Council is due to expire.

“That would be a natural point in time to try to find a partner and a permanent space that’s not going to be impacted by erosion now or into the future.”

The centre – housed in the former North Stockton Surf Lifesaving clubhouse – has been an early learning facility for around 30 years. Mission Australia took over management in 2009.

A community meeting in March to discuss the erosion crisis heard council staff and residents would develop a plan identifying short and medium-term solutions.

The council will have another two years to lodge a coastal management program with long-term solutions. 

 Details: https://act.missionaustralia.com.au/stockton-fundraising or facebook.com/maearlylearning.