Fitzroy Gardens Pavilion rented out despite community pressure

Katie Johnson

The Pavilion in Fitzroy Gardens has been rented out as an art exhibition space, despite months-long pressure from residents’ groups to use the building for community events.

For the next six months the building will now be available to local artists and creatives as an exhibition hall, through the City of Melbourne’s (CoM) Creative Spaces program.

East Melbourne Group (EMG) amenities convenor Susan Henderson said that the outcome was disappointing after six months of lobbying the council.

“The Pavilion has been sitting locked and empty for four years, so we as a community thought it would be a great, COVID-safe facility to host events for people who were feeling isolated,” Ms Henderson

“We put in a submission and twisted ourselves inside out to meet the Creative Spaces criteria but were apparently unsuccessful.”

EMG along with the East Melbourne Neighbour Network claim to have been assured by the CoM that they would be able to use the building for community events after a short contract for city cleaners finished.

But after months of back and forth they were told that the council’s property department had decided the space should be used to help the struggling arts sector.

“We feel that the process completely sidelined ratepayers and casual users of the Fitzroy Gardens who could have joined in on the activities,” Ms Henderson said.

“It was a very disheartening process with a lack of transparency.”

EMG had planned to use the Pavilion for exercise classes, sketching, yoga, tai chi and art classes.

Ms Henderson said that the activities were aimed at reducing isolation among the older population.

“We have several hundred people and groups who would like to use the facility and a lot of them are older people who find technology very difficult,” Ms Henderson said.

“During COVID there are a lot of people who are losing mobility, who are very lonely because they’re so isolated and this was an opportunity to help remedy that.”

Ms Henderson said that with the Pavilion off the table, something needed to be done to address the lack of community gathering places in East Melbourne.

“We have no proper community spaces in East Melbourne and COVID has really highlighted the need for more community-based activities in the suburb,” she said.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the Pavilion was given to Creative Spaces as the council was working to adapt vacant spaces to help the city recover from COVID.

“We sought Expressions of Interest to activate the Fitzroy Gardens Pavilion from January to June 2021 and received 16 applications,” the Lord Mayor said.

“The two successful applications for three-month residencies both had strong community and public outcomes.”

“We want to continue working with all groups about how best to bring to life under-utilised facilities and spaces. All ideas are welcome, and I’d like to thank local residents in East Melbourne for their engagement with the City of Melbourne in this area.” •

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