Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre CEO Michael Henning.
Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre CEO Michael Henning.

Cry for help to keep centre afloat

THERE was a time when retiring to Queensland was both a healthy lifestyle and sensible economic choice for southerners but times have changed.

Many of those retirees that have made the move to the Coast, along with local retirees, are finding the cost of living in our delightful climate all too much, according to Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre chief executive Michael Henning.

His community centre, which has a catchment area from Bli Bli to Coolum and along the coastal strip to Kawana and Sippy Downs, is being challenged by the continually growing population of the Coast and the costs associated with supporting those who find themselves in need.

"Unfortunately, particularly those retirees that have moved from the southern states haven't realised just how expensive the Sunshine Coast is in comparison to where they were back home," he said.

"For example, insurances and car registration are much, much higher, particularly if you had pension rebates in the southern states, which are far better than what it is here in Queensland.

"Your rentals are much higher too. Food is much cheaper down south than it is up here.

"We have a number of retirees that live locally that are really struggling. They can pay their rents but that that's about it. So they may not cook for a few days to save on electricity, they may not switch on their lights for a few days and they may not have meals so they can pay their bills."

On any week Mr Henning and his staff of five and volunteer group of 74 help "at least a couple of hundred" people across the age groups.

"Over 19,000 people have accessed this centre during the 2018 calendar year," he said.

"There has been a fairly significant increase this year."

The centre's One Roof project, which doesn't receive government funding, has seen the greatest increase in usage numbers.

The twice weekly meal service, with 13 other personal services such as dental, podiatry, hair cuts and financial counselling paired with the evening event, attracts 50-70 people each meal.

For Mr Henning to evolve the centre to become self-sustaining and have a long life well beyond the reliance on council and State Government grants, he has made some major changes to the centre's operations.

Currently the centre is funded partially by the State Government topped up by donations and room rentals.

This is one way seniors can help the centre find their long-term footing, by renting one of the two meeting rooms or use the licensed commercial kitchen for cooking classes.

The rooms are available for rent on weekdays, week nights and weekends.

The airconditioned smaller training room seats up to 30 and is equipped with a whiteboard and large projection screen.

In the front of the building is the large meeting room, which seats up to 70 and has attached a fully equipped kitchen.

"It's a quiet area and if they want to they can wander around in the centre's community garden," Mr Henning said.

Produce from that garden will soon by available for sale to the public as well local restaurants and bars.

"And we will be selling bottled worm wee, which is a superb fertiliser," he said.

Another innovation is the conversion of the old childcare centre into a volunteer-led op shop, which opened last month just in time for Christmas shopping.

"We have been oversubscribed with donations, with good-quality stuff," Mr Henning said.

"It's mostly clothing and jewellery, not furniture and white goods."

Adjacent to the Cotton Tree building is plenty of street parking.

Mr Henning, 63, has been at the centre for 15 years.

He is passionate about seeing the centre become financially independent by using the venue's assets.

"I'm not doing this for money, I am only working part-time," he said.

"This community inspires me."

To book a meeting room and find out op shop open hours, phone 5443 6696.

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