2 June 2023

'This is a community project now': Coledale RSL Club's volunteer base swells

| Dione David
Join the conversation
Coledale RSL Club volunteers

Coledale RSL Club is thriving thanks to its passionate volunteers. Photos: Dione David.

What started as a Hail Mary to save a treasured Coledale local institution from shutting up shop for good has blossomed into a stunning example of the power of community spirit.

In early January at the suggestion of one of Coledale RSL Club’s directors, Wayne Litzow, the board went out to its member base to float the idea of a volunteer-run establishment.

Club secretary Greg Todd said the idea was not without premise, but the response then and now was unexpected.

“I’d have been satisfied with 30 or 40 initially but we had about 50 people put their hand up,” he said. “We trained 31 volunteers in our first RSA [responsible service of alcohol] class help onsite, and just a couple of weeks ago, another 26 in our second class.

“We now have about 70 volunteers and we’re getting more enquiries all the time.”

Coledale RSL Club

The club has stood on its beachside location since 1948.

Earlier this year half the club’s pokie machines were sold to fund the reopening, including some minor refurbishments. But there was more to the transformation than the freshly polished floors, new taps and a lick of paint, according to Greg.

“Have you ever seen The Castle? Well, it’s the vibe. It’s a much happier place,” he says.

“When I first started going to the club 30-odd years ago it was like this. For whatever reason, the joy of being there declined. Now it’s back and then some, and that is generated by the volunteers behind the bar because they’re genuinely enjoying themselves.”

READ ALSO Surfrider South Coast president says systemic change is needed to tackle plastic waste, but there’s hope

Coledale RSL has been in its location only steps away from Coledale Beach since 1948. The land was purchased by locals, including returned servicemen, and the building was constructed by locals.

“It was largely dedicated to the locals,” Greg says. “It’s got a lot of history of the locals being involved since its beginning. And once again, that community has stepped up in a big way to revive it.

“To me, this is us returning it to what it was originally intended – run by and for the community. This is a community project now.”

Coledale RSL Club

The club is now enjoying a sort of Renaissance.

The club now has just one full-time employee, operations manager David Lynch.

Food comes by way of food trucks parked out front and everything else – from the bar work to the cleaning – is managed by its army of passionate volunteers who give up their time on a roster created weekly by yet another volunteer, Genelle Todd.

In some ways, the club is now enjoying a sort of Renaissance and it has rippled into the community itself.

“In living here for 30-odd years, you knew a lot of people by face. You’d walk past and say good morning, good afternoon. Now it’s ‘Hi Chris, hi Malcolm’,” Greg says

“When we had classes at the club, locals properly met each other for the first time, by name. They came together to save a Coledale icon and it has brought us together in a big way.”

READ ALSO Hundreds of volunteers and thousands of participants later, Shellharbour parkrun marks its 400th

Membership is increasing, which is good because while the volunteers have pulled the club back from the brink, strong patronage will remain a crucial part of its success.

That’s why as the quieter winter period looms, Greg says Coledale RSL’s board and volunteers are busily planning ways to beckon folk out of home and into the club, such as trivia nights and live music.

 Stripped Street food from Gaza food truck at Coledale RSL Club

Diverse cuisine comes from an array of food trucks, like Stripped Street Food from Gaza.

“We’re thinking of all sorts of draw cards to bring people in during the colder months,” Greg says. “I hope everyone will come down, enjoy themselves and feel the vibe.”

Coledale RSL Club is located at 731 Lawrence Hargrave Dr, Coledale, and is open for dinner on Thursdays and lunch and dinner on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

For more information, visit the Coledale RSL website or Facebook.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Daily Digest

Want the best Illawarra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Illawarra stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.