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  • Liane Morris

Unlocking Creative Potential and Empowering Youth through Art at The Place

the place

Connecting community, celebrating diversity and creating opportunities is what The Place: Charlestown Community Centre is all about.


A not-for-profit community facility established in 2010 through a joint initiative of Lake Macquarie City Council and GPT who run Charlestown Square, it was set up to deliver a space that supports the local community to meet, connect, belong and grow. It provides access to services and opportunities to participate in educational, developmental, and social activities.

An incorporated association, The Place runs as a financially sustainable social enterprise. It offers quality venue hire and state of the art facilities including two large halls, carpeted rooms, and a commercial kitchen that are accessible to the whole community. The money made through hiring the spaces directly supports the social outcomes that the organisation is dedicated to delivering.

The Place offers a wide range of programs and activities for the whole community, including Charlestown Square Tuesday Club, Be Connected Digital Literacy Training, Made at The Place and Great Mates Youth Programs, Bluegum Qigong, exercise, yoga and dance classes, plus a range of social and support groups. The Place also offers information and referral support, bus information, a free book exchange, free art display, printing and photocopying services and a Kindness Cupboard, which provides non-perishable food and hygiene items for anyone in need.


Cristelle Govender, Centre Manager at The Place is passionate about reaching into the community and supporting the whole of community.

“What’s unique about The Place is that we’re open to collaboration and working with other community organisations wherever there is a need,” said Cristelle.

“When we see a gap, we like to fill the need if we can.”

One of the areas that Cristelle sees as being critical work is addressing the perception of young people in our community.

“Engaging youth is very important for us,” said Cristelle.

“We would like to see the community value the contributions of young people. We want to provide programs that help showcase the strengths and talents of our youth – to help change the often-negative narrative that we’re seeing today, and we run several programs designed to do this. Our programs are often about developing confidence and self-esteem, improving abilities, and developing positive experiences and relationships.”

One of the most successful programs run by The Place that addresses this need is called Made @ The Place. Made @ The Place is a free creative arts program for young people aged 12 – 24 that has been run over a two-year period through eight four-week workshops and is due to be completed at the end of this year. The program provides young people the opportunity to learn, create, exhibit, and sell creative work that they develop, learning from professional local artists in different genres. By the end of each workshop, participants create a self-determined piece of art, including painting, drawing, or digital art, to exhibit at The Place. The program was made possible by funding from the NSW Government through their Regional Youth Investment Program.

“One of the biggest barriers to young people learning new creative skills is the cost. It’s expensive for lessons and materials. We remove that block through this program, and it’s been incredibly popular and highly successful.

“In terms of outcomes, through pre-and post surveys, we actually measure things like artistic confidence, community perceptions, self perception, how participants would otherwise have spent their time, etc. We uncovered some really interesting results. We were able to measure the level of artistic confidence and found that following participation in this program overall, there was an improvement of an incredible 30%, and for some individual programs, that improvement was measured at a whopping 69%.

“We also found that participants would otherwise be on their phones, often feeling lonely and isolated. By participating in the program, they were able to realise their own skills and value. It’s so important to cultivate that self-worth in our young people – who don’t see it in themselves.”

Some of the workshops so far have been Portraiture with Alana Lerch, Still Life with Alana Lerch, Upcycled Art with Natalie Anderson, Cyanotypes with Aidan Gageler, which mixes art with chemistry and Fabric Landscapes with Natalie Anderson. There are two more available before the end of the year: Spirit Animals by Goya Torres, which begins on 31 July, and Lino Printing with Alana Lerch, which begins on 23 October. There will be an exhibition of works at the end of the year.

“The artworks that have been produced from the workshops have been phenomenal. Participants had an opportunity to exhibit their artworks in December last year - and this was a wonderful event that we’ll be doing again this year. It’s been truly amazing to see the young people learn, grow in confidence, and build connections with each other throughout the sessions. When family and friends attend the end-of-year exhibition, you can see the pride that these young people experience, seeing their artworks on public display.”


The program's success has meant that places are in high demand. An effort is made to ensure that 70 to 80 per cent of the participants are new to the program for each workshop, with repeat participants put on a waiting list until it is determined that the remaining places can be released.

If you know a young person who would like to get involved in this wonderful opportunity, are interested in hiring a space for an event or wish to learn more about the range of services and programs provided at The Place Charlestown, call (02) 4032 5500 or visit


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