What a massive vote of confidence in the Arts!

This thought dawned on me during my first week, in July 2023, working as the Venue Coordinator of the newly refurbished Bellingen Memorial Hall:, All three tiers of government tipped in funds to guarantee the venue’s future via an upgrade that by all accounts resolved a make-or-break situation for the Hall.

The steadfast work of consecutive volunteer management committees had done a remarkable job in maintaining and adding to the facility over decades – I know this first hand, not only as a punter who saw concerts at the Hall, but also since sitting with previous Hall custodians and learning how they fought to win funding for key assets and infrastructure upgrades.

Nevertheless, the building had reached a crossroads, in that the level of deterioration necessitated either a major overhaul or the shuttering of this beloved community asset. I, for one, am grateful the decision was made to support the former, after all, between Port Macquarie and Lismore, no other venue boasts the capacity or flexibility afforded by the combination of the Main Hall and what’s now dubbed Studio BMH.

In understanding that this venue belongs to the community, I realised that for it to remain relevant and valued, it must be inhabited by the community, kept busy, sprouting and nurturing creativity.

So how has this facility served the community in its first year? Here are some statistics: across the year, the Hall has been booked for 225 days and the Studio for 204 days, or put another way, 69 individuals and organisations hired the Hall or Studio 429 times during the 2023-24 financial year.

The venue currently hosts six weekly classes comprising drumming, dancing, singing, karate and drama. We host meetings, workshops, club nights, theatre rehearsals and live music in all its glorious forms. We’ve also hosted four multi-day festivals, featuring classical music, mediterranean culture, cinema and writers.

Furthermore, the multi-tiered pricing system means that rental costs are packaged and tailored to meet the means of each hirer. Accordingly, 77% of all bookings have been subsidised by Council to ensure the venue is accessible to all.

Whenever I do my rounds at the Hall, watering the plants, collecting hair clips from the floor (63 and counting) or placing event posters in the windows, I’m wondering what new event idea will spring from the community that day. When the phone rings, it’s gratifying to find ways to support community groups, not-for-profit organisations and commercial promoters to make the most of this fabulous resource.

Phil Nicholas is the Bellingen Memorial Hall Venue Coordinator, Bellingen Shire Council

www.bellingen.nsw.gov.au | Ph: 02 6655 7300 | E: council@bellingen.nsw.gov.au