I knew North Melbourne’s proposed Learning and Life Centre was nothing more than a cunning ruse, even before they appointed Andrew Demetriou’s brother to lead it.
It was all clear in my head: label the club’s redevelopment plans as a ‘local community investment’ and the State will chip in a few mill. Spin it as an ‘innovative educational facility’ and the Dept of Education will cough up another couple. Throw in some ‘multicultural youth’, ‘underpriviledged schools’ and a few other random buzz words and the philanthropists will be eating off your plate. All the while, Arocca and co. get the state of the art training facility they always dreamed of, with a fresh angle on converting every school kid in the area! Then they appoint James Demetriou to lead it.
“He’ll bludgeon ’em all ’til they bleed blue and white!”. I can hear the NMFC Board room laughing from the next suburb.
Not that there’s anything wrong with all that – just don’t tell me you’re investing in the community when you intend to rape it.
So I rock up to a local community forum on the Learning and Life Centre ready to antagonise. The opening DVD presentation, clearly an NMFC propaganda tool complete with sensationalised captions and ‘inspirational’ backing track, increases my resolve. Then James Demetriou begins his spiel …
It turns out he’s good. Almost too good. A first generation Australian immigrant from Pascoe Vale South, a background in school teaching, extensive corporate law experience, a former local Councillor, a Masters in International Business, the founder of Sports Without Borders, a lecturer in education and community development, a multicultural advocate … I struggle to keep up.
Then he starts talking about the Learning and Life Centre. With conviction, passion and charisma. He describes it as, “Sports Without Borders on steroids”. A community class room; 4-5000 school kids a year; disadvantaged local schools and communities; proper educational programs on civics, nutrition, sport, literacy & numeracy; involvement of 8-10 NMFC players; genuine community access; after school homework programs; all programs free of charge … my head begins to explode. Could this be the real deal?
I start to believe James when he says that he doesn’t want duplication of community services, that the Centre will respond to community needs rather than dictate them, that this is a world first initiative. It’s the community hub that the inner north-west has been screaming out for for ages. I don’t even consider him arrogant when he suggests he’s the man to build it.
Then he tells us that all participating school kids will get lunch, a backpack, an activities folder, plus a footy and scarf. So the truth finally comes out – it is an NMFC propaganda scheme after all!
Learning and Life Centre overview:
- Facilities – Roughly a third of the overall Arden St complex is dedicated to the Learning and Life Centre. The centrepiece will be an oval shaped, 35-seater classroom with full ICT facilities. There’s also a 120-seater theatrette, an indoor multi-purpose basketball court and a community gym.
- Staff – Local primary teacher, Mairead Hannan, has been employed to oversee the educational programs. She has extensive ESL teaching experience, and judging by the nodding heads at the forum, plenty of local credibility. Sash Herceg, former Multicultural Officer at the Western Bulldogs, has been employed as the Multicultural and Community Development Officer.
- Governance – An advisory committee will closely oversee all aspects of the Learning and Life Centre. James listed off a number of very impressive committee members, but I only managed to scribble down Peter Scanlon of the Scanlon Foundation (Chair); Denis Moriarty, CEO of Our Community, and Drew Petrie, current NMFC vice-captain. A number of sub-committees will also foster wider community participation, including a youth committee and a fundraising committee.
- Funding – The first three years of recurrent funding are already locked in. James is currently packaging up various programs within the centre and ‘tapping people on the shoulder’ to secure further on-going support. Sources include corporations, philanthropies, unions and local institutions/businesses.
- Community Access – Community groups from across the region will have access to the various facilities for free, or at heavily subsidised prices. North Melbourne Football Club are looking at controlling community bookings between 9am and 6pm, with Melbourne City Council looking after the rest.
- Point of Difference – Eugene Arocca, who proposed the Centre in the first place, travelled the world’s premier elite sporting clubs in search of best practice community engagement models, including the Blackburn Rovers, the L.A Lakers and the San Francisco Giants. NMFC will be the first club to have extensive player involvement in the community and educational programs delivered. This separates the Centre from the rest, including similar redevelopments at Richmond and the Western Bulldogs.
The Arden St redevelopment is set to be finished in November, with Learning and Life Centre programs commencing in March 2010.