A NEW $7 million community centre at Kempsey moved a step closer today - and when open, it will address some of the human challenges in town, the size and bulk of which are not realised by the majority of residents.
Girls as young as 13 years of age with a newborn, domestic violence and an increasing number of women aged in their 60s forced to sleep in their car because there's nowhere else to go ... that's the pained picture.
The purpose-built Youth Hub and Family Community Centre on the site of the old ambulance station in Belgrave St will tackle these issues and much more in what will be an Australian first.
The importance of the project has captured the imagination of Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who was in Kempsey this morning for an update on an initiative he is passionate about.
Mr McCormack - flanked by local MP Pat Conaghan and Kempsey mayor Liz Campbell - was conducting a streetside press conference when a man pushing a child in a stroller parted the throng as he moved along the footpath.
Most chuckled at the unexpected distraction, but the Deputy PM quickly seized on the symbolism: "It's about family, it's about community".
"We are going to revitalise this corner with the love, care and support that Kempsey is renowned for. I can't wait to come back here and see the finished product," Mr McCormack said.
The new centre - funded with $500,000 from the State Government and $6.5m from the Commonwealth - will be three-storeys high, with emergency accommodation on the upper levels, and a cafe and health and community services on the ground floor.
Deb Kuhn first dreamt of the concept three years back - and she told the Macleay Argus the support of Mr Conaghan and local State Member Melinda Pavey had been critical in its progress.
"In 2018 I was frustrated seeing all the money coming into Kempsey and what wasn't happening - with people still falling through the cracks," Deb said.
She said the new centre would be a "one stop shop - and all about keeping people safe".
Operated by St Agnes, the facility will run 24/7 and provide a wide range of services - "right through to assisting youth-in-crisis to transition to a pathway be it employment or just independence," Deb said.
She said the centre's vision was a result of collaboration between governments and community organisations.
"Write the goal, then write the end plan. We had been seeing the violence and seeing the crime - and with this we have been working from the ground up rather than a top-down approach," Deb said.
Cara Dale from C2Hills Consultancy said the centre would be self-sustaining - with the tenants on the "ground floor paying commercial rents".
"It's a big day for Kempsey," Cara said, a sentiment echoed by mayor Campbell.
Mr Conaghan said with the build planning complete, residents could shortly expect to see "shovels in the ground".
He said he was driven to advocate for the facility as it will "provide services for vulnerable people in our community".
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