Former mayor Margaret Strelow says opponents have misrepresented her intentions.
Former mayor Margaret Strelow says opponents have misrepresented her intentions. Allan Reinikka Rokstrelow-A

'Cafe opponents assume wrong'

FORMER Mayor Margaret Strelow has opened her heart in a letter in support of her proposals to open a social cafe in Rockhampton.

In the letter to each councillor, also sent by Mrs Strelow to The Morning Bulletin, she describes how she and her husband bought the old electrical shop at 300 Bolsover St with their superannuation “to find the best way to use the site for the maximum good in the community”.

And she describes how she believes opponents have made a mountain out of a molehill on the wrong assumption that she wants to create a drop-in centre for the homeless, needy and disadvantaged.

The letter sets her application in historical context and describes how, in June last year, the council offered $100,000 to the Baptist Tabernacle to acquire a permanent base in the city to continue the work of the Second Chance Ministry food van.

Although the church declined the offer, Mrs Strelow said 300 Bolsover St had been considered and she “could not forget about the building and the ideal opportunity that it provided to house a range of activities that would provide connections into the community”.

Describing her plans she writes: “The plan is to open a take-away which will have pricing and clientele across a very wide spectrum.”

She says that from earlier correspondence about the possible use of the building by the Second Chance Ministry, she did not expect problems with gaining approval for her vision and believed councillors were comfortable with the site being used for community-oriented purposes.

It would be a sustainable social enterprise, with a community facility in one portion and a take-away in the other offering cheap meals once a day at 2pm for about half-an-hour.

Ordinary sales would fund the lower-priced meals.

The neighbourhood centre would be used as a local meeting place for the running of craft classes, for social mornings, and for courses such as parenting support groups, family budgeting work groups, self-help discussions and the like, she says.

“Given the above, you will understand why I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when those who are objecting to the Chat Room Café explained to the council during their deputation how they arrived at their understanding of what I am planning to do.

“It seems that one of the ‘letters of support' received about my proposal refers to my development as a ‘drop-in coffee shop'!

“The objector's whole argument is then developed from these few words by a vivid imagination.

“The objection says ‘it may be speculated that the community facility may provide services similar in nature to other Drop In Centres, services for the homeless, needy and disadvantaged such as meals, clothes washing facilities and short term accommodation.'

“And so began the process that has made a mountain out of a molehill. Neither in my submission, nor in the evolution of my own thoughts, have I ever considered a ‘drop-in' centre as described above, nor have I ever considered that I was planning on catering for a ‘select clientele' in the take-away, as also stated in the opening paragraphs of the objection.

"Our vision is, and has always been, much wider.

“Our model is close to a ‘community cafe' although with a difference.

"Because of our location we believe that take-away food will be the core of both our business and income.

Examples of community cafes to Google include Common Groundz in Blacktown, Word Café in Liverpool, Mars Hill Café in Parramatta and the Horizon's Cafes in a few locations in Sydney.

“For the record ... my application clearly states that my proposal is for a real-life take-away with real people and real food, and will be open to the general public.

“The profit on some items on the menu will assist to make other items cheaper.

“As we have seen, town planning is subjective to some extent ... but the report (by a very experienced and highly regarded town planner) that I presented to you during my last deputation demonstrates that this proposal is not a clear case of ‘no'.

“Councillors, I know that you are genuinely seeking to do the best thing you can for your community.

“Please let my application speak for itself.”

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