The sudden unexpected departure of the troubled ALSO Foundation from Melbourne’s City Village and the disappearance of its website has prompted speculation about the organisation’s final demise, and upset many of its auspiced key GLBTIQ community groups including Minus 18, G&L Switchboard, Y-Gender, Bent TV and the Anti-Violence Project (AVP), who are now left in the lurch without a home.
There are also accusations that the foundation does not have enough board members to run the organisation, and that it illegally sub-let its spaces, and charged some groups such as Melbourne Queer Film Festival much more for their space than they were required by council for rent.
So what the hell is going on? Is the ALSO Foundation done and dusted? Were they illegally subletting and overcharging community groups? What is the future of Melbourne’s key community groups? Same Same sorts out the truth from the rumour…
Does the ALSO Foundation exist anymore?
“The ALSO Foundation definitely still exists and is running,” ALSO Foundation secretary Daniel Perkins tells Same Same.
“While we’ve severely scaled down staff, there are definitely enough board members to run the organisation. We have five board positions filled, and we are seeking more people who would like to get involved and help rebuild the foundation into the organisation we know it can be. We have just completed a couple of fantastic GLBTIQ advocacy campaigns that you’ll see rolled out very soon. ”
The campaigns will include powerful cross-media platform anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia projects, says Perkins, who assures us that the recent work of the foundation will revive community faith in the organisation.
“We believe that ALSO is still relevant to the community and has a valuable role to play. As we reveal the new work we’ve been involved in, I think that will become apparent.”
The ALSO Foundation occupied two spaces – one at city village and the other is its opportunity shop,” explains Perkins. “In the process of dealing with our financial realities and securing the existence of the foundation and ALSO Care, we realized that it was not in the best interests of us or the community to and stay in our city village. So we moved our office and activities to one site.
“Unfortunately this means that we can no longer provide spaces for community groups to use as their base.
“What many people don’t know is that since ALSO has occupied the space at City Village, it has provided meeting rooms, office space, and facilities to a substantial number of Melbourne’s key community groups. For many of the groups the foundation provided the space for free.”
When asked about the accusations of overcharging certain community groups, he explains that no one was ever kept in the dark about charges, and that community groups always negotiated based on what they could pay – with those who were able to pay helping subsidise the associated costs of providing the majority of smaller groups getting space and facilities for free, including some of the foundation’s own associated costs with providing services to groups.
“ALSO had official tenancy of the entire level,” adds Perkins. “It simplified the process for community groups who needed a space, facilities or meeting rooms, as they didn’t have to individually deal with council about it. They only had to deal with one organisation – us – and that allowed for a far higher number of groups to come and use the facilities as they required. Of course it cost us to be there, and I don’t think it was unreasonable that we openly negotiated for those groups who could afford it, to contribute to the rent of the space and the associated bills. It wasn’t subletting at all. Groups who could afford to contribute, such as MQFF, in essence helped subsidise the space so that we could offer it to community groups for free.”
Perkins explains that the recent developments are not the end of the organisation, but simply a “scaling down” of its activities and spending, and getting back to “creating a sustainable organisation.”
“I understand that to the general public it may seem as if we had disappeared or run away. But that is not true. We’ve always been in communication with those directly involved with us in relation to our movements. We had been in communication with Melbourne City Council (MCC) who knew about when we were moving, and as far as I’m aware, we had notified the community groups about our move and what was happening. Perhaps not the exact date of the move… but certainly our partners in the foundation were informed of developments.”
Uncertain future of key GLBTIQ Melbourne groups
However, representatives of many of Melbourne’s key GLBTIQ community groups are left with concerns. They refute the claim that ALSO communicated their movements with them. Minus18 board member Nick Bassett tells Same Same there was no notification given of his youth organisation’s move.
“Those of us who are regularly at City Village heard mumblings of ALSO leaving around the 30th of June, but there was certainly no official notification by ALSO to their auspiced community groups,” he explains. “There was no email, memo, statement… not even signage or a conversation to one of us to indicate the move that happened. They left suddenly and seemingly abandoned everything in the offices, including our files, office furniture and computers which we currently don’t have access to… and have to organise our own access to. It’s very disconcerting for us… and we don’t really know what our next move is going to be exactly.”
Executive director of the Anti-Violence Project (AVP) and Bent TV board member Greg Adkins agrees.
“The issue we have is that there was no communication… no clear indication of what was going on,” he says. “Given that many of us are here in the same building and on the same level with our other community roles, you think someone could have at least formally said something.“
Bassett and Adkins say many of the groups are currently negotiating their own access to the office materials ‘abandoned’ by ALSO, as well as their tenancy, dealing directly with Melbourne City Council who they say have been incredibly supportive and understanding. Their tenancy has not yet been confirmed, and Adkins fears losing the space to another potential tenant who would be willing to take the whole level.
On one hand, many of Melbourne’s community groups now need to consider how they will fill the new financial requirements of their tenancy, and need financial and volunteer support from the community more than ever. On the other, recent developments and downsizing of the ALSO foundation mean that they will now be seen as stand alone groups in their own right, and this is potentially an exciting development.
“If anything positive was to come out of this situation, it’s that we are now our own stand alone organisations, making and negotiating our own way in the world,” confims Bassett. “Minus18 has been around for many years now. We’ve got a great team and we’ve been doing great work over for a long time… that’s not going to stop.
“We have been standing on our own feet for a while, and though the coming months will be a little challenging, we are going to get through it and come out stronger.”