In 2015 Grace Church in Rokeby, Tasmania bought an old pub.
Formerly the Village Green Tavern, the drinking hole happened to be in the Grace Church locality occupying 5-acres of land in the middle of the Clarence Plains community.Dermot & Debra Cottuli
Pastor Dermot Cottuli and his wife Debra are the lead pastors at Grace Church, situated on the eastern side of the Derwent River close to Hobart.
The renovations to the old pub may have gotten underway last year but Dermot won’t be forgetting in a hurry how bad things were at the beginning.
In fact, he and his wife had lived at Rokeby for 12 years and when looking for a new church building, and told about the old hotel by an estate agent, Dermot had to admit he didn’t know the pub even existed.
“I said there’s no pub in Rokeby, what are you talking about?”
So Dermot drove out there and met the agent on the property.
‘This is nuts, where did they hide this?’
“I don’t know how I missed it. You just drive down the street from the main road and there it is at the end of the street.”
I just looked at the place and said this is nuts, where did they hide this?
And that’s how it all started.
“When we bought the pub I was hoping someone would come and burn it down but now we’ve done a whole stack of work I hope no one does that,” Dermot said.
After all the church has a saying – ‘Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can.’
“It was really run down. Imagine a pub that’s been let go for 40 odd years. The electrics and the plumbing were shocking and the carpet had 40 years of grog in it.”
‘Start where you are’
But somehow they could see its potential and although the old pub was dilapidated it was ideally situated. ‘Location Location Location’ as the real estate industry would say. That’s what it’s all about and the pub was plumb dead centre for the Grace Church to emerge out of the ashes so to speak.
“When it came on the market we were able to buy it. We could see it would take us a while but we decided to make a start and see where we get to,” Dermot shared, saying that’s been their approach all along.
The whole idea was to convert the pub into a community centre.
What Dermot has found interesting is that most of the people living in the area are familiar with the pub and have utilised its facilities in one way or another.
That’s given the community a sense of ownership over the building and they’re quite excited about seeing it being restored.
So, it’s a work in progress that began last year. The back room that was the pub’s dining room was gutted, the flooring was pulled up the walls lined, and the floor is now carpeted.
‘God really dealt with us’
This year the focus has been to set up an administration and training area out the front where the bar used to be.
Dermot said that had to be gutted as well.
We bought the timber for the framing and paid a carpenter.
“At that stage we had no idea what it was going to cost us.”
What makes this story more interesting is that for five years the church had rented a building and when the opportunity at Rokeby came up the hearts of the people were prepared.
“Because we sat for five-and-a-half years and God really dealt with us and our hearts, when this came up it was like, absolutely, let’s do it,” Dermot confessed, saying they’ve had incredible support.
Community first, church second
Dermot believes that if you want to bring about change in a community you need to change what the people see.
“As we renovate this dirty, smelly, rundown old pub and turn it into something beautiful, a community centre the whole community uses, the community will look at the pub changing.”
They will think that if there’s hope for the pub then there’s hope for my life.
Meantime the community centre is already making its presence felt among the local residents.
It’s already hosting a variety of activities that fit around the community’s interests.
“What we’ve done is gone out and said, ok, what’s our community doing and let’s help the community do it even better, and that’s worked really well,” Dermot said.
The property still part of the community
Those involved include the local council, Mission Australia Housing, neighbourhood centres and more.
“There’s a community together group that’s a conglomeration of all the service providers in our area plus local residents.”
“We host activities for them and because we haven’t come in and said we’re going to build a church on the property, most people look at the property as still theirs.”
It’s still part of the community, rather than the church wanting them to come along to their services.
Dermot said that’s helped overcome the suspicion of are you really genuine and why are you doing this for us.
“Because we’re not asking them to do stuff for us and we’re saying, ‘What can we do for you?’ The community’s been really fantastic and they’ve opened their heart to us.”
Grace Church has a bigger vision
But as mentioned there’s still plenty more work to be done. Disabled toilets and disabled parking for instance but it all comes at a price.
“That project will cost about $220,000 so if we get the funding for it that will be fantastic.”
But the vision for Grace Church may have just gotten bigger, much bigger.
“We’ve a rundown old commercial kitchen on the property and we’ve been talking to Loaves and Fishes who are preparing and distributing a thousand meals a week in the north of the state and they want to do the same down here.”
“So the idea is, we renovate the kitchen, they move in, they start training for local residents, they cook meals to be given out in the local area, and it will actually bless all of southern Tasmania.”
If you would like to listen to the full audio interview click play below
In November of 2015 Grace Church Rokeby purchased the Village Green Tavern (11 Ralphs Terrace Rokeby). Situated on nearly 5 acres of land in the middle of our community the property is ideally situated for development into a hub for community gatherings and as an administration base for local community groups throughout the week.
As with any old building, especially a pub, there were all sorts of issues that had to be addressed before the building could be used and in 2016 we began the task of removing 40 years of accumulated junk and redundant furnishings, bars, fireplaces, walls, etc that needed to go.
(For more – www.gracecentre.org.au/our-story/