“We’re trying to be positive,” said Katoomba RSL Club CEO Nick Darias, from his new demountable “office” in the carpark of the burnt-out club.
“Keeping people together as a team – that’s hard, and we’re trying to give assurances that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mr Darias, who has worked at the club for 28 years, has had a list of priorities since the fire which engulfed the Lurline Street building on February 24.
“Priority one on the day of the fire was to make sure nobody was injured,” he said.
“Two was the welfare of the staff who were all offered counselling. Three was that we could keep the staff employed in the Mountains.”
The club, which employed 45 people, has insurance which covers its wages but still needs to find alternative work for many. Mr Darias conceded he is struggling to offer the same number of hours.
Admin staff set up this week in a temporary office under the old Katoomba library, to do payrolls, membership renewals and give out information. The carpark office will also act as an information centre.
Mr Darias said the courtesy bus drivers have been kept on – they now take members to Wentworth Falls Bowling Club. Two of the three Nova Employment staff with a disability have been retained – unfortunately there are no duties for one wheelchair-bound worker – while for a number of staff, extra shifts to make up the shortfall have been offered by other clubs, including Blackheath Golf Club, Springwood Sports Club, Wentworth Falls Country Club and Greystanes Disability Service.
“And a lot of other venues and local community organisations are saying, if your employees need work, we’re happy to put them on,” Mr Darias said.
“It’s how our community works – at the end of the day we’re all there to help each other. The support from the community has been great.”
The club building is already being demolished, although some parts may be saved. Next steps will be for the engineers, architects and insurers to meet with club officials to determine what will replace it.
Mr Darias is looking at an 18-month timeline for the rebuild.
In the short term, this weekend’s Music Festival will still use the carpark but the club stage has been relocated to the Palais Royal. The Anzac Day ceremony will go ahead at the Cenotaph out the front with the traditional free breakfast/brunch to be held either in the carpark or in the hall of the nearby Katoomba Public School.
A number of war medals which were retrieved from the wreckage have been sent to Sydney to be cleaned up and the ribbons replaced, hopefully before April 25.
Entertainment, including bingo, darts, poker and small one-person shows, has been relocated to Wentworth Falls Bowling Club. But big shows have been cancelled.
The fire has affected a large number of people, Mr Darias said.
“If you and your family were coming down for a meal or the raffles or to watch the sport and this was your one night a week out, now everyone’s a bit lost.
“It’s had a big impact on the community, especially for the elderly. A lot of members come because it’s a place of comfort, where they meet everybody like a home.
“That’s why we will still pick them up and take them down to Wentworth Falls so they can keep seeing their friends and talking to people. Otherwise they’d just be stuck at home.”