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Has the community forum run out of steam?

02 Jul 2019

Has the community forum run out of steam? Image

By Meg Hill

A year on from the restructuring of the Docklands Community Forum (DCF), it appears the project has stalled from member dropouts and lack of independence or initiative.

The forum was originally established in 2012 as a replacement for the legislated and expensive Docklands Co-ordination Committee and was restructured following a review in 2017 as an interim measure. Members of the Docklands Representative Group (DRG) – residents, workers and others – organised and ran the public forums.

Both the DRG and community forums were instrumental in securing Docklands’ future primary school.

Current DRG member and Rotary representative Daniel Limmy joined the forum a year ago and was “very excited to work with like-minded residents and professionals who work in Docklands”.

“But there are frustrations, mainly because people are dropping out of the team,” he said.

“We originally had 20, but rarely have 20 people shown up. At the last meeting we only had five people turn up so that was a big frustration for me.”

Mr Limmy said there were effectively only eight people from the original 20 still involved in the DRG.

A likely consequence of this is a drop in reach and community engagement. Others have told Docklands News that it was being too closely guarded by the City of Melbourne (CoM).

A CoM spokesperson said the most recent DCF, on June 26, attracted more than 50 participants to the Library at The Dock.

“The DRG has successfully organised four community forums including the most recent one in June, which attracted more than 50 participants and featured presenters from the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA) and Fishermans Bend Taskforce,” a CoM spokesperson said.

But Docklands News attended the forum and counted no more than 35 in attendance, many of whom were participants associated with speakers. Interested residents have since complained about a lack of promotion, saying they didn’t know until the night that the forum was happening.

While forum dates are listed on the council’s website, Docklands News received a group email notification from the forum’s leader, CoM community engagement partner Melanie Del Monaco, two days prior to the event with the forum’s agenda. The event wasn’t advertised in the June edition of Docklands News.

The 2017 review of the forum which led to its restructuring resolved to “transition the Docklands Community Forum to a community-led model by 2019”.

But Mr Limmy said there were still problems with the forum’s independence and capability.

“The City of Melbourne are supportive, they’re there every meeting and give us tips,” he said.

“But they’re like a big brother, they want to guide us in a certain way instead of hearing ideas or initiatives from the group itself,” he said.

He said part of this stemmed from problems with members, and that the group still needed to make a lot of fundamental decisions.

“Until we can decide on those I don’t think they [council] can let go,” he said.

As reported in the May 2018 edition of Docklands News, Ms Del Monaco had told the March 28 DCF that feedback received as part of council’s reform process had shown that Docklanders wanted more opportunities to meet and network with each other.

With the demise of the former Docklands Community Association (DCA), a reformed DCF offered a chance to build a structure that allowed it to set own agendas and bring locals together to socialise and advocate for issues of concern. However, the current model doesn’t appear to be offering the vehicle the community is looking for.

Mr Limmy said initially members were very united but he’s seeing “the opposite side of things at the moment”.

“I think the intention of the forum is very good, but people need to be involved. I’d really like to see it continue, but we need the right members.”

Fellow DRG member Janette Corcoran told Docklands News that the group’s future depended on strengthening its local connections.

“I appreciate the concerns raised by my fellow DRG members regarding the evolution of the group and especially its connection to Docklands more widely. My feeling remains that Docklands really needs a community group – like the DRG – to help us move from a generic precinct into a neighbourhood with its own character.” 

“I think the future of the DRG lies with strengthening our connections within Docklands, growing our networks and then actually working with these groups on issues that matter to Docklands – like the sustainability of our harbour.”

A City of Melbourne spokesperson said “As some members have either relocated from Docklands or can no longer attend due to increased work commitments, the DRG is planning to recruit new members later this year when the 18-month term of existing members expires”.

The DRG will next meet on July 3 and its understood that its future direction and structure will be on the agenda.


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