Tugun Community Hall upgrade honours the legacy of Tom Atkin

Situated on Golden Four Drive in Tugun, the Tom Atkin Hall, which opened back in 1967, is a community owned hall and a true cultural landmark. To maintain its legacy and relevance in today’s landscape, the hall is currently undergoing a façade redesign, spearheaded by former Gold Coast City and Queensland architect Philip Follent.

Philip is a passionate advocate of maintaining our city’s cultural heritage and developing sustainable and integrated civic spaces. He recently took time out from his busy schedule to enlighten us on the progress of the upgrades as well as providing a fascinating history lesson on the origins of the man for whom it is named.

Can you put us in the picture on how the current renovations of the Tom Atkin Hall are coming along?

The fabulous old hall, originally built by volunteer labour, is now 55 years old and is ready for a facelift. It’s the only community owned hall on the coast and the trustees, Tugun Progress Association, keep the weekly rent affordable to foster events for a range of demographics, from dance to drama to music and health activities.

The planned 40’s / 50’s picture theatre style façade, we hope, will create that ‘Instagrammable’ moment, such as for a bride-to-be wanting to hire the cute hall for her wedding reception. Or as a desirable location for local creatives to put on performance /music events or host comedy nights…  and maybe even to become part of the ‘Small Halls’ cultural phenomenon!

We have just finishing making the steps ‘grander’ and enabling ramp access, which now unintentionally looks like a mini Tokyo Olympics Skatebowl – but without the colour!

Earlier this year the Tugun Progress Association commenced a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds towards the upgrades. How has that played out and can people still contribute if they’d like to help?

We started a Go Fund Me campaign and raised around $3,000 quickly, but soon after we gained tax-deductible status for the project through the Australian Cultural Fund (ACF). This has had a great impact, with families and businesses donating significant sums upwards of $5k and $10k, and we think this will now appeal to corporate donors who see that this project can align with their own Community Responsibility Ethos within their corporate plans.

However, it’s also the ‘mums and dads’ small donations that can accumulate and make a big difference too. $50 from each family in the district would see us able to fund the entire renovation project rather than it being staged over years. We appreciate all donations (and yes it is a tax deduction for a donation of $5 or more). People just need to go to the ACF website and click onto the Tom Atkin Hall rejuvenation project, make a donation and Bob’s your uncle, or maybe in this case… Tom’s your uncle!

Are there further upgrade phases planned and what’s the long-term end goal for the Hall in undertaking these ongoing enhancements?

This current work gets us to the front door but there is still lots to do, like the curvy canopy with lights galore over the entry gathering space and the art deco doors and air con tower and disabled bathroom facilities. We are getting there bit by bit. Donors are now getting interested since they can see we are serious and the standard of work is pretty impressive thanks to a patient building team that aligns the pace of work with our fundraising.

The next big push is to improve the backstage facilities and rehearsal change areas so the venue can cater to a broader range of hall hirers and community events.

Who exactly was Tom Atkin and what was his relevance to the local Tugun community?

Tom Atkin, remembered fondly as an influential school teacher (despite chain smoking during playground duty!), was a tireless community advocate and a WW2 returned serviceman, decorated for brave and covert service behind enemy lines. He was the first member (#001), of the Tugun Bowls Club but gained most respect for his negotiation for community betterment with politicians of all persuasions – all of whom thought he voted for them! His legacy of community group membership and stewardship is remarkable and included starting the Gold Coast’s Schizophrenia Fellowship and lobbying for the Tugun bypass. He died at the age 90 in 2007 and asked that his ashes be scattered along the Tugun bypass.

How did you become involved in this project and why do you think it’s important that this building (and ones like it) maintain a presence for current and future generations?

About five years ago I saw how locals wanted to have a real community experience watching movies here (having that ‘almost’ canvas chair experience). They’d bring bean bags instead just to see movies together, but the building lacked facilities and needed an upgrade. The street presence was so unremarkable that only locals knew the hall existed. So it was time to see if today’s community had the same civic spirit and grit that the locals showed in the sixties in building the hall.

It started with the neon sign (it’s magenta not pink by the way!), for those who think the late Tom would squirm – though we don’t think he’d really mind! Now people know the hall is there but it is still important to better address the street and create civic spaces that people can be proud of.

Outside of the preservation of the hall are there any other projects of this type that you’re involved with?

The best that a community can do is to lobby for quality development, not the dross that is often sadly replicated with little care for the character of neighbourhoods or topography. I am an architect by training but continue to advocate for a landscaped, indeed biophilic city that celebrates and facilitates humankind’s need to touch nature daily, a city that says we are the Gold Coast, not just a stack of buildings beside a beach that could be anywhere in the world. It is endemic landscaping that makes the difference and gives authentic identity to places. The Coast will get better the more trees we plant and the more we as citizens demand better public spaces.

If you’d like to contribute to the process of restoring and maintaining this piece of Gold Coast history, head to the Australian Cultural Fund website to make a tax deductable donation to the Tom Atkin Hall Rejuvenation project.


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