By Sandra Tan
Like many businesses, Melbourne’s lengthy 2020 lockdown meant a pause in client projects for TANDEM Design Studio.
This sudden availability, and arrival of JobKeeper, enabled the architectural practice to offer services pro bono to the Footscray Lions Club. Established in the 1960s, and home to 21 elderly, mainly Filipina women, the modest buildings at Footscray Lions Cooperative Village were in sore need of an update.
“We found out about the project years ago, but had no capacity to do anything about it then,” says Tim Hill, director at TANDEM. “It wasn’t until COVID hit and our projects stopped, we thought: rather than sit here, how can we do something useful?”
Working closely with Lions Club, TANDEM’s thoughtful design honours a cultural preference for communal living. As in the existing structure, the new village will form a linked neighborhood around a central green courtyard. Inside, apartment layouts provide options for co-living.
Residents are bolstered by a shared migrant experience, the familiar languages and food of their homeland. Aged in their mid-60s to 90s, the vibrant group enjoys karaoke, bingo, line dancing and tai chi; with birthdays, wakes and Filipino mass celebrated in the community centre.
“All the people here are happy and safe,” says Anicia Chessells, 81-year old Kapampangan Lionsville resident liaison. “They only leave if they pass away or go to a nursing home. Until then, they prefer to stay. Some may be a bit worried about moving, but we’re all very excited to live in our new homes when they’re finished.”
With dedicated partners at United Housing Co-Operative and sub-consultants at Legata Projects and Metropol Planning, the project recently secured funding from the state government’s Big Victorian Build. The first round of this stimulus will see $739 million invested in 89 projects, creating 2,352 homes and over 9000 jobs.
A welcome lifeline for the Lions Club: a small, resilient volunteer operation who have rallied for decades to honour their legacy of goodwill.
“We’ve been here for 60 years, working as best we can to make sure this place feels like home,” says staunch advocate Bert Jessup, Lions Club member and past president. “We have got to be doing something right. It has to be of value.”
Lions Club are currently collaborating with Peter Sibly, General Manager at United Housing Co-operative to find alternative community housing for the residents nearby, in a new development close to the market and public transportation in Footscray. The move is expected to commence in coming weeks.
The new Footscray Lions Cooperative Village is scheduled to open in April 2023.