Community members and staff of an Indigenous social enterprise in inner Sydney that provides health and wellbeing services say they have been left “heartbroken” by a decision to shut down the non-profit organisation.
- The National Center of Indigenous Excellence will close on Monday
- It employs about 50 people, most of them Indigenous
- The center offers sport, fitness, conferences and community classes including tutoring and educational support
The National Center of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) is set to close its doors in Redfern on Monday after failed negotiations between the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) and new owners the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC).
The ILSC, a Commonwealth body that assists in acquiring and managing rights and interests in land and waters, divested the site to the NSWALC on June 30.
But both organizations have been unable to reach an agreement on the social hub’s ongoing support.
The center opened in 2006 and offers sports, fitness, conferences and community classes including tutoring and educational support.
It employs about 50 people, most of them Indigenous.
Co-founder and CEO of non-for-profit Redfern Youth Connect Margaret Haumono said the decision came as a shock to staff and tenants like herself, after a meeting with NSWALC on Tuesday.
She said she was assured there would be “a three-year waiting process followed by an expression of interest for the fitness and aquatic centre, and that the community would get the first option at tender”.
She said staff were told on Monday they would no longer have their jobs by next week and were reportedly told to sign non-disclosure agreements.
“Staff are heartbroken. We are very angry, we were never consulted and never told this was going to happen,” she said.
Ms Haumono operates programs for about 50 high school children at the center every day.
“The ILSC has never accepted an invite to the table from the community. This [decision] is a complete disrespect and disregard to all our elders, to all the people who work on the ground every day,” she said.
“A lot of kids are going to be affected by this. We keep kids off the street and give them that space to be safe.
“I couldn’t describe what it means that it’s gone.”
NSWALC said it had been working on the potential transfer of the NCIE and the operation of its fitness and aquatics centre.
But said “following detailed due diligence and negotiations with the ILSC, that has not been possible”.
In a joint statement, both the ILSC and NSWALC said they had worked together “in good faith” to secure the future of the centre.
“Unfortunately, we have not been able to reach agreement on terms for ongoing support of the organisation, and as a result it will close.”
NSWALC chair Danny Chapman said a process would be opened to secure “a suitable third-party” to manage the fitness and aquatic center on the site.
He said the improvement of the property itself is a significant undertaking, and NSWALC would be focusing efforts on the future of the site.
The ILSC purchased the site, where Redfern Public School had operated for over 100 years, in 2006.
Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Shane Phillips runs multiple prison diversionary and youth programs with local police at the center.
He said community input was vital for the future success of the centre.
“We don’t want to be diluted here, we want to create economic empowerment — independence — so that the model is sustainable,” he said.
“That place has been one that everyone uses, young and old, and it’s about healing, it’s about investing. We as a community should not be the ones that suffer.”