Junction 142 History

By Kerry Jordan and John Cox

After the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, the NSW Synod of Uniting Church in Australia was looking at ways to consolidate its finances, and properties that were not effectively used were in its sights.

Katoomba Uniting Church was one such property. The buildings were old, the church and hall dating from 1888, and the Parsonage from 1906. The congregation was small and aging. Consideration was being given to selling the property and investing the funds in newly emerging suburbs in southwest Sydney.

However, the local Uniting congregations (Leura, Katoomba, Blackheath) opposed this, arguing that although the congregation at Katoomba was small, there was still a Sunday church service and activities run by the other local Uniting Church congregations at the Katoomba church supported the disadvantaged in the community. These activities included the regular weekly “Open Table” lunch and the Primary Learning Support Group giving after school tuition to needy children. The dream of the local Uniting churches was to increase that support for the large homeless and disadvantaged cohort in the Upper Mountains.

The problem was that the other congregations were also aging and although they had dreams, their ability to give the time and effort needed was limited. In 2012 the search started for a like-minded partner to assist in implementing the dream.

Enter Rosa del Ponte and Earth Recovery Australia. They were younger, enthusiastic about social and environmental welfare, and looking for a new home with cheaper rent for their organisation. It seemed a good match.

Throughout 2013, discussions were held between Leura Uniting Church (LUC) and Earth Recovery Australia (ERA). What were the points of connection? Where was there dissension? Eventually, agreement was reached. Both groups would maintain their autonomy, but work in sympathy. The Sunday Church Service, the Tuesday Open Table lunch and the Wednesday and Thursday Primary Learning Support program would continue under LUC. ERA would run their Food Rescue, Soul Kitchen Sunday lunch, Pop-Up Shop and their computer rescue program. When none of these programs needed the venue, it would be available for hire to outsiders to generate income for the venture.

ERA would have non-exclusive use of the property (and exclusive use of a small office) rent free. In exchange for this, ERA would manage the activities on site. LUC would oversee property matters, arranging for utilities, maintenance and minor repairs, etc. These would be paid for out of income generated on site. As part of their contract, ERA agreed to actively seek money-raising activities to cover costs. Any excess would be shared between the two organisations.

In addition to the discussions with ERA, talks were also held with In Lak’esh, a group that supported young musicians, artists, etc. The arrangement with them was they could use the garage for storage of props and equipment and use the venue free of charge for rehearsals when it was not needed by other hirers. If they held a paying concert, they would pay the going hire rate. In exchange for this they would assist in the minor repairs and upkeep.

Prior to this, Open Table and Primary Learning were running out of the small hall, an annex between the church and main hall. It had a simple kitchen. The main hall had been rented by Lifeline but they had closed, and it was being used by several dance groups. It also had a small separate kitchen. The Parsonage was derelict and boarded up and the grounds were overgrown.

With these agreements reached, LUC needed to obtain acceptance of the venture, and a promise of on-going tenure, from the parent body Parramatta Nepean Presbytery of Uniting Church. Three people were seconded to prepare a detailed Proposal to present to Presbytery, and through it to Synod, the governing body of Uniting Church NSW/ACT. The proposal was accepted, with provisos. These were; that all costs involved must be covered by the endeavour itself or LUC; that there was a provisional promise that the site would not be offered for sale for 2 years; and that if successful after 5 years, beneficial stewardship of the property would revert to LUC. Detailed reports were to be provided for Presbytery scrutiny every 6 months.

Memorandums of Understanding were drawn up and a name for the venture decided upon, Junction 142. Junction because it was a meeting point of ERA, LUC, In Lak’esh and the Community and 142 because that was the Katoomba Street address. Activities started on site early in 2014. The first income received was $240 from In Lak’esh for hall hire in April 2014. The Markets started soon after, and have been a good source of income (until Covid disrupted everything). Narcotics Anon was the next hirer, followed by other venue hirers. By the end of 2015, we were covering the day to day costs.

But, the venue was in a poor state of repair and needed major upgrading. With the assistance of donations of cash from supporters, the Katoomba Congregation, and Primary Learning, time and expertise from community volunteers and Rotary, and discounts from local traders, the massive task was commenced in a small way at first. Cleaning, painting, minor repairs and rubbish removal was undertaken, and this continues to this day.

Rosa’s connection with her clientele raised the issue of homelessness, and the difficulties associated with living in the bush or in a car. She asked the committee if we could use the old derelict Parsonage in some way. Investigations revealed it was not a viable option as emergency housing, due to the age and condition of the building and the lack of permanent on-site supervision but it was decided to renovate the building so the shower and laundry could be accessed and used for other day to day activities. A grant to replace the roof was received from “Uniting”, the social welfare arm of the Uniting Church. Rotary and a local businessman volunteered to repair the verandah, windows, access, some cladding, painting and install safety grilles. The clientele often added their labour under supervision, and tackled the mammoth task of clearing the grounds of undergrowth.

At the same time, the NSW Government’s Community Building Partnership Program provided us with $53,000 which enabled the upgrade of the kitchens in both halls, and the re-building of the bathroom and laundry in the Parsonage. When this was completed, Open Table moved to the main hall and kitchen; and Primary Learning moved into the church. This allowed ERA to have exclusive use of the new larger kitchen in the small hall. This included freezers, fridges, cool-room and commercial style facilities, and provided more space for their frozen meal preparation. Soul Kitchen and the Food Rescue hampers were in the main hall where the original kitchen had also been upgraded. The Pop-Up shop (raising money for ERA), which had to be dismantled whenever the hall was required for hires or meals, was also in the Main Hall. The Shower and Laundry Service in the Parsonage dates from this time. (2016).

In 2018, “Uniting” provided another grant to allow us to repair, sand, seal and polish the floors in the Parsonage, and also the Church. This was at the request of our regular Tango dancers. The venue was now looking much sprucer and more inviting. In the middle of that year, “Toolo” took up permanent residence using the garage and the front room of the Parsonage for their Tool Library. Another of the rooms in the Parsonage was set up as a lounge for the clientele in December 2108. The MOU with In Lak’esh which had not had any input for several years, was terminated.

Over the whole life of the project, under the auspices of Rosa, support for the clientele has grown. Not only food and shower and laundry, but assistance with literacy, dealing with support networks, finding housing, personal items, clothing, bedding and most of all, a listening ear and somewhere to feel at home. It has been supported financially by many donations (cash & kind) from organisations, businesses, clubs, people in the community and church members.

Unfortunately, from December 2019 everything experienced a major downturn. First came the fires which impacted tourist numbers in Katoomba and thus affected our marketeers. Next, Rosa took a well-deserved break to visit family in the UK and Italy. She was trapped there by Covid. Then the Primary Learning Support was closed as numbers had been declining and there were problems sourcing enough suitably qualified volunteer tutors. Covid-19 also meant we were not sure whether we were permitted to operate or should have been in lockdown. When we found out we were an essential service, provided we abided by our Covid-19 plan, we re-started the Open Table as a takeaway service. The Shower and Laundry Service was also re-started with a dedicated volunteer (with some monetary assistance from BMCC) who maintained Covid-19 safety by cleaning between each user. However, the new ERA management team experienced major organisational difficulties and were unable to continue with the Food Rescue or their Meals Service. Therefore, 2020 was a year better forgotten, except that there was a strong corps of supporters who kept the dream alive.

In 2021 the Leura Uniting Church decided to take up the challenge of continuing the services provided by Earth Recovery Australia. A number of volunteers who had been with ERA joined with us and the creation of a new organisation began. It modified the name to Junction142: an activity of Leura Uniting Church and the Community. The descriptor indicates it includes the Leura Church and members of the Community who share the same vision of care for people who are homeless or in need because of some misadventure. We are an inclusive organisation committed to creating a safe, welcoming place for everyone.

Covid-19 in its various forms, created major financial problems for the primary sources of finance. Junction142 Village Markets, the op- shop Sweet Charity, and hall and space rental were all closed.

A group of people from the church and the community came together to build the new organisation. It was made up of people with diverse backgrounds, experiences and skills. A new board was created. There were people with experience in establishing constitutions and policies and procedures relating to welfare services within a Church and Community environment. Accounting practices supporting the services were established. They are clear to supporters, sponsors, and funding bodies.

These backroom functions have enabled the services to continue and grow. We have been successful in gaining funding for particular projects e.g. painting the hall, purchasing a van for Food Rescue and building ramps for people with a disability. We have moved the ERA kitchen equipment and extended the existing kitchen in the main hall. This has created a permanent space for the op shop Sweet Charity.

However, we struggled to gain financial support for the wages of the manager of the Shower and Laundry Service. The manager of the project continued for most of 2021 without being paid. Maintaining records that demonstrate the need and support from BMCC Counsellor Kerry Brown enabled us to gain a substantial grant that will give certainty to salary for the next 12 months This was increased by grants from Bendigo Bank Katoomba and Katoomba RSL. We also need funding for a coordinator of our Food Services program.

Rebranding was accomplished because of the skills and contacts of one of the Board members, plus support from a graphic designer paid for by a supporter of Junction 142. They have created exciting fresh new branding for Junction142: an activity of Leura Uniting Church and the Community.

Other financial supports have come from various sources. One significant donation was from a family that enabled the driveway and car park to be resurfaced. There have been many other financial donations and donations of expertise in kind. Rotary have been assisting us in rebuilding and refurbishing the property.

Many hours of work from people committed to Junction 142 has resulted in us now providing meals, food hampers, clothing, shower and laundry service on three days per week. Volunteers are enabling us to consolidate our successful rebuilding of Junction142 to serve the community. We anticipate consolidating our work in 2022 and expanding with new projects for the community.

And so the story continues …

Donate to Junction 142 and help us to provide our services to the community. Donations over $2 are tax deductible.

Junction 142 is an activity of Leura Uniting Church and the Community.

ABN: 64 978 960 724