In December 2015, historian Dr Valerie Lovejoy was commissioned to write the transitional history of the Wattlewood project in order to preserve a record of the milestones, the challenges, and rewards of this undertaking.
This transitional history follows on from Dr Lovejoy’s oral history project undertaken in 2011 which recorded residents’ memories of life in the G.K. Tucker Settlement and their hopes and fears about their future. This current history is more extensive, providing the organisation with a record of the project that Ken regards as a possible model for meeting the future social housing needs in Australia.
The following edited extract from the as yet unpublished history explores some of the complexity of the project:
The Wattlewood development was a particularly complex operation from both a care and a subdivision perspective because of the approximately 100 residents living on site. Firstly, the residents were living in old and dilapidated accommodation which needed continuing maintenance until the move was complete. Many residents were elderly and some were quite frail. Supporting this vulnerable group of residents through a time of enormous change was going to provide significant challenges.
Secondly, the subdivision process was a complex undertaking and likely to be protracted because of the occupied and unoccupied dwellings on the brownfield site. As a 6 stage subdivision each stage had to go through a standard process of planning approvals, civil construction to complete the subdivision infrastructure and finally the building of houses. In standard practice this process could reasonably be expected to take 18 months for each stage though gaining the initial planning approval for the overall site would be expected to be the most time consuming part of the process and therefore later stages should be more streamlined.
In this instance, the existing dwellings were scattered throughout the site. Most stages required demolition of houses and dismantling of services (gas, electricity, water, telephone), before civil construction could begin. As the site had been occupied for so long, no clear maps of the service connections existed. Identifying, mapping and disconnecting these was going to provide headaches for the staff involved. Fortunately, no dwellings existed at the rear of the former G.K. Tucker Settlement so constructing Stages 1 and 2 did not involve any demolition of houses.
A simple solution to this problem may have been to shift all residents into new homes in Stage 1 which would then have left the rest of the site clear to demolish all existing buildings, remove services and proceed unimpeded with construction. However, the strong commitment to ‘salt and peppering’ the social housing on site among the private houses negated this possibility. Furthermore, it made sound financial sense not to move all residents at once. Selling lots on the open market enabled the release of a proportion of the finance needed to construct the houses.
As part of its care commitment to the residents who had long established relationships in the settlement, LMHS asked residents to nominate two or three people they would like to live near when they shifted house. As people had friends throughout the settlement giving residents this choice and respecting their requests increased the complexity of choosing the houses to be demolished for each stage.