Courthouse Refreshment Scheme
The Courthouse Refreshment Scheme was run under the auspice of the Manning Valley Neighbourhood Services Inc. (MVNS) to provide the opportunity for volunteers to offer light refreshments, two mornings a week when court is in session, to people obliged to attend court at the Taree Courthouse.
How the Scheme Started
Some years ago, the incumbent Community Development worker at the Manning Valley Neighbourhood Services Inc, Judith Johnston, perceived the need of a scheme whereby volunteers recruited by the CDW could be rostered on duty to offer a cup of tea or coffee and biscuits to people attending court in Taree. With the support of the Management Committee, she approached local church groups seeking volunteers willing to be rostered in pairs once a month for half a day. At first the roster was for only one morning per week but when the need arose, the scheme was expanded to two mornings – the situation that exists at present.
Need for the Scheme
The value of the provision of light refreshments is self-evident. Even on the brightest of days, the atmosphere outside the courthouse is bleak. A cup of tea or coffee, or a cold drink on hot days is always welcome, as is a biscuit or two to nibble on. More welcome, however, is the presence of someone to talk with, especially as there are usually few friendly faces around when one is awaiting a call into the courtroom. The volunteers of Manning Valley Neighbourhood Services Inc are cheerful purveyors of refreshment and non-judgemental chat.
A coordinator, acting as link between the Manning Valley Neighbourhood Services Inc and the refreshment workers, is responsible for providing a roster of volunteer duties and contact phone numbers each six months. This roster is provided with sufficient notice to allow them to arrange their half-yearly calendar around their duty days. The coordinator also has the responsibility of ensuring that supplies of goodies, including disposable cups are kept up in the storage cupboard and that moneys received as donations from recipients are collected regularly and banked.
PERCEIVED BENEFITS OF THE SCHEME
Clients: The cup of coffee and biscuit is always welcome but the main benefit is less concrete but more important. As a general rule, the courthouse is a very unfriendly and daunting experience for its clients. Our volunteers are there with friendly face and a willing ear for those in need. This feedback comes from the clients themselves. Our ladies are very popular.
Volunteers: The rewards for our volunteers are appreciable. OK, so we shout them to a Christmas luncheon and they can meet each other as a group – their only chance – but that’s not what it’s all about. Our volunteers gain in their sense of self-worth (as do most volunteers) and a feeling they are doing a job worth the effort. One lady, resigning from the scheme for her own personal reasons, wrote: “I have really enjoyed the expanded friendships and knowledge of the court system that being a volunteer on the trolley has brought me. I need to say ‘thanks’ for the opportunity to feel equal with paid workers.” This is a heart-warming success story.
Incidentally, in 2001, the Year of the Volunteer, our group was given, collectively and individually, service awards from the Prime Minister, presented jointly by the local member and the mayor. Official recognition!
Closure of the Courthouse Refreshment Scheme
After 16 years of providing light refreshments to people attending court when court is in session at Taree Courthouse, The Courthouse Refreshment Scheme (under the auspices of the Manning Valley Neighbourhood Services) has served its last cuppa!
The scheme began in 1996 as an initiative by the then Manager of MVNS, Judith Johnston, to meet a very basic need for those people along with a friendly face and a chat.
Until 2011 the volunteers were able to utilise the female witness room to store their refreshments and obtain hot water etc, however, with the 2012 renovations this had to cease due to lack of space. Once the new courthouse opened MVNS negotiated with Taree Court to re-establish this popular service. Despite many requests to Taree Court to reaccommodate the Scheme, Caron Watkins, Manager of MVNS said that it had been a long drawn out process with little response from the Courthouse to support its reestablishment. After 12 months of waiting, it was deemed time to accept this, celebrate with, and thank the valuable volunteers for their time with the service and the 12 months they have waited to hear of a positive outcome.
Volunteers were mostly women (some men) who dedicated their time to volunteering while receiving very little in return, other than a sense of service and belonging. The number of volunteers had been consistently between 15 – 20 for the past 10 years. One volunteer claimed “I have really enjoyed the expanded friendships and knowledge of the court system that being a volunteer on the trolley has brought me. I need to say ‘thanks’ for the opportunity to feel equal with paid workers”.
After Judith left, Ern Hollebone took over the reins and managed to obtain some small comforts for the volunteers, such as an umbrella for shade cover during the warmer months after the trees were removed; and then Di Fiegl took over the role of rostering and supporting the scheme on behalf of MVNS.
The cost of the scheme was subsidised by voluntary donations from clients and local solicitors. Any surplus was used to purchase new or replacement equipment and, at the end of the year to subsidise a Christmas lunch for volunteers.
In 2001, the Year of the Volunteer, our group was given collectively and individually, service awards from the Prime Minister, presented jointly by the local member and the mayor.
MVNS is dedicated to community development activities and takes pleasure in knowing that volunteering can be such a valued and needed activity for members of the community who wish to give something back. We thank them all for their commitment over the past 16 years and wish them well for future volunteering opportunities.