29 October 2013

Say Hello to the 'Boggo Road Arts, History & Education Committee'

It has been a while since an update here on the situation at Boggo Road Gaol, mostly because keeping tabs on what is happening there is like herding cats on a water bed. Well, now is a good time to bring you up to speed with a couple of announcements.


Leighton Properties are redeveloping the surrounding site and their plans are currently under consideration. Part of those plans will include work inside Boggo Road Gaol. Much of the old prison will remain a historical site, although some parts will undergo 'adaptive reuse'. What that actually involves I can't say, because I'm not sure. What I can say is that the place will not be opened fully and properly before 2018.

In the meantime, part of one cellblock is open on an interim basis only, but access is controlled by a small business with a long history of antagonism towards several not-for-profit groups. I'd advise you to avoid disappointment and wait to visit Boggo Road in all its glory, preferably under friendlier management.

Which brings us to...

The big news for now is that a growing alliance of interested individuals and organisations have created the all-new 'Boggo Road Arts, History & Education Committee'. The aim is to develop a new professional not-for-profit management body to take on the long-term running of Boggo Road. A brilliant new concept has been developed, and the right people are in place to make it happen. We're talking doctors, professors and professionals, people with a solid understanding of creativity, community and organisation.

This new group has been a long time coming. There have been a couple of false starts in recent years, largely due to the ongoing delays and uncertainty over the reopening of Boggo Road (now a massive six years behind schedule). However, the experience of those false starts has proved invaluable in getting us into a strong position now.

Personally speaking, I am looking forward to taking a background role in this whole process while better people than me move in. Most people should know by now that this whole interim opening of part of a cellblock has been 'controversial' (to put it diplomatically). I could write several thousand words on the subject, but won't. Suffice to say that the concept of 'do it once, do it right' went out the window. Of more relevance here is that a recent consultant's report to Public Works recommended (among other things) the installation of new management at Boggo Road - preferably a new professional committee - and a decision on that was expected by mid-July. The result would have been a massive improvement in community access and engagement.

What happened instead was three months of silence followed by a recent snap announcement of a two-week 'Expressions of Interest' period for interim management of Boggo Road into 2014. This had quite clearly not been recommended. There was only supposed to be an Expressions of Interest for the real reopening. Why this decision was made, I don't know.

Now, the BRGHS has never wanted to run Boggo Road by itself. The plan was always to have a larger not-for-profit organisation manage the place with the BRGHS doing what it can to assist. Last year the BRGHS could have put together an Expression of Interest submission to achieve that. However, this snap EOI, made while half the BRGHS committee were on overseas or interstate holidays, caught the group unprepared. A decision was quickly made. Engaging in the ongoing interim opening saga, with the endless secrecy and moving goalposts, was looking more and more like a waste of time and energy... especially to try and achieve something that we never wanted to do anyway! It was time to step back and refocus on the big picture. Recharge, recalibrate, reinvent.

And that is just what has happened, and surprisingly quickly too. As a result of forming this alliance with some old friends and some completely new people, all with a shared vision for Boggo Road, the BRGHS has become part of something much bigger. There is now breathing space to carefully build something positive, creative and special.

We should have done this months ago!

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