Funding lifeline for Bell Park

Anthony Aitken. (Supplied)

Matt Hewson

Geelong council has provided Bell Park Sport and Recreation Club with renewed hope for its plans to install female-friendly facilities, voting unanimously to support the club’s bid for federal funding at a special meeting this week.

Councillors approved City officers’ recommendation to apply on behalf of the club for a $1.5 million grant from the Australian government’s 2024-35 Play Our Way program and commit $200,000 for female-friendly change rooms at Hamlyn Park Reserve.

The Hamlyn Park upgrades were seemingly set to receive council’s backing for state government funding and co-contribution at February’s council meeting, but an 11th hour change of heart saw six councillors vote to support Newtown & Chilwell Sporting Club’s bid instead.

Since that meeting council has faced intense criticism with former Newtown & Chilwell senior coach Cr Peter Murrihy, who moved the alternate motion in February, drawing much of the public’s ire.

Cr Murrihy said “the timing of this couldn’t have come at a better time after the heat of the past month”.

“The intended outcomes are to improve sport and physical activity, increased and sustained access, increased participation, retention, engagement, and successful delivery of safe, inclusive spaces, which is all that Bell Park desire for their female participants,” Cr Murrihy said.

“No one can deny that Bell Park are in need of a netball change room facility, so we keep our fingers crossed that this application is successful.”

If successful, the funding will allow for the construction of a change room facility consisting of outdoor viewing terraces, storage and medical areas, two umpire rooms, an administration office, social lounge area, four netball change rooms, segregated toilet showers and an all-abilities toilet.

Bell Park president Jeff Jarvis said the club was “pretty rapt” council were supporting its application after February’s turn of events.

“Now how successful that’s going to be is a different matter… it’s going to be a fairly competitive push for these grants, I would think,” Mr Jarvis said.

Cr Anthony Aitken also warned the success of the Play Our Way grant application was not a given.

“I caution the enthusiasm that simply by voting for this, the club will be and the council will be successful,” he said.

“The reality is, this is a $200 million national program, so it sounds like a lot of money at the local level, but at the national level it’s actually a very small amount.

“If council is unsuccessful with this application, it doesn’t resolve…the fact that Bell Park, Hamlyn Park is actually the highest need in terms of female-friendly change rooms in the local government area of Geelong.”