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There has been much (electronic) ink spilled and much opinion shared about what is happening in and around the church grounds and some misunderstanding of what steps are being taken or not being taken with regards to addressing security concerns at St John’s and for the Court.  

St John’s is part of the wider Anglican Church, particularly this Diocese of Islands and Inlets – which means we have processes to follow, and cannot make decisions that will irrevocably alter the nature of the church and its environs without following those processes. The Land upon which we are situated is owned in trust by the Bishop on behalf of the Diocese so that finally the decision comes to them (usually, though not always, delegated to the Finance Committee and Diocesan Council, and having to pass through their hands in any case).

A decision that affects the wider community of the church and the neighbourhood also has to go through a meeting of both the Court Society and the Parishioners. Fortunately both are the same body, as membership in St John's (usually taken to mean attendance and/or connection through our mailing list) is membership of the Court Society.

We are awaiting a ruling as to whether such a meeting can be legally binding if it takes place via electronic means rather than a physical gathering.  

Since particular concerns were raised by residents, the Parish Council has addressed them at every meeting and at extra meetings in between our regular meetings. Here's where we are so far:

  • We have requested the court explore the securing of the lower patios by means of plexiglass enclosures or similar, or at the very least turn off power to external electrical outlets. BC housing, in partnership with the Court, are also exploring the upgrading of windows to the court building, which is in process.  
  • The PC have requested that the property group act in putting deterrent devices (known as Scarecrows) and bright sensor lighting (under the advice of a Crime Prevention Through Environment Design (CPTED) consultant) and that is being addressed.
  • We have employed a contractor to remove walls which block lines of sight and create niches for people to hide and use as toilet or other less than desirable purposes.
  • We are exploring the moving and enclosing of the dumpsters in the Parking lot (which have already been moved twice to seek to address this).
  • We are meeting with landscaping and construction consultants to discuss the reshaping and replanting of the Gardens to enhance the space and make it more inviting to positive, community focussed use.
  • We continue to work with Paladin security to address concerns raised by residents of the Court with regards to the efficacy of our contracted security

All of this has been done with advice from two different CPTED consultants, one who works for VicPD and trains the other CPTED consultant officers from the reserve constables, one who has consulted worldwide on these issues.

We have also been recommended work to do that connects us to local community groups and we are considering commissioning a full CPTED consultation which will work to both ameliorate criminal and anti-social behaviour, and to make our grounds better and more usable to the community of the church and court.

All of this has been done so far.  

We have also had two security consultations, made up of court and church representatives, who came out with many different possibilities and recommendations and an incremental approach that allowed us to make changes to the garden areas that we could assess as they were implemented. The idea of a fence is only one of those ideas, and is at the end of the process, not the beginning. The reasons for this are that though a fence seems like a simple solution, there are concerns about the efficacy of such an endeavour, the danger of creating an ‘anonymous zone’ which will increase rather than decrease nuisance, and that the consequences of building a fence could be far reaching and damaging to our work beyond our own community. Such a change to the identity of our community cannot be undertaken lightly, nor can we do so without the endorsement of our landlords, the Diocese.  

I hope we will continue to consult with those who do have a broader picture, and PC will be discussing the offer of Steve Woolrich, from ReThink Urban, CPTED consultants, to undertake a full process of community engagement in a couple of weeks.  Meanwhile work is being done already on the garden and grounds and I am very grateful to Andrew Gates and Graeme Brown who have been so diligent in researching and acting on the requests of PC along with the Property Group of St John’s.  

If we did get to the point of needing a Parish meeting:  

  • Once we have a ruling on the legal standing of an electronic meeting and possible vote, we would need to call an Extraordinary General Meeting of parishioners on zoom. This takes at least two weeks and as part of this we would be inviting various groups to make presentations about community impact, and a CPTED consultant to discuss options.  
  • We would have to have a majority in favour of a course of action.  
  • Any plans we make would have to be costed, formal planning drawn up, three quotes from construction companies procured, need for permits explored with the city (we are a heritage building) and these would have to be presented to our own finance group and Parish Council. We would also need to have the Diocesan Asset Manager as part of these discussions and planning.
  • A presentation would need to then be made to the Finance Committee of the Diocese with firm details of how funding would be procured.
  • Finance would refer details on to a meeting of the Diocesan Council for resolution with a recommendation for action, or not, attached.
  • The council will decide on whether they will allow or not any changes to the church or hall grounds.
  • The Bishop or Administrator of the Diocese might make a contribution or pronouncement in the debate.

This is just the bare bones of the process, and a glimpse at the work that has been done by many people in addressing this situation. As with so much of the work that goes on in our church community - pastoral, liturgical, administrative - so much is unseen and we generally only see the end product rather than all the effort that has brought it about. Please recognise that the whole community is concerned that these needs for all of our community are addressed thoughtfully, effectively, compassionately.

We will keep the community informed of progress and changes to be made as they occur. We recognise that feelings are strong where the well-being of the community is concerned, and those of us in leadership do care, we are acting, and we are working towards what we hope will be an equitable, secure, sustainable, and gracious end to this process.