What was once a problem building will soon evolve into community reading rooms, thanks to the tenacity of Gleemoor residents and a group of committed volunteers.
Five years ago, this building – a derelict house on the corner of Thornton and Boeschoten roads – caused nothing but trouble for the community. It attracted prostitutes, drug peddlers, and many “unpleasant characters were harboured” there. It also gave rise to a spike in house break-ins in the area.
The house happened to be close to the home of Jeff Paulse, the founder of Reading and Writing Solutions, and instead of complaining about the conditions, he put a plan in place to create something positive for the community.
In November 2012, with no experience, and armed with nothing but sheer will, Mr Paulse instigated a community-driven initiative which saw the building being demolished.
“I contacted Shaheen Ryan, one of the owners of the house, and he told me about the residents abusing him because of the derelict house. I asked him permission to demolish it, because evil prevails when good men do nothing. I had no experience in demolition and arranged community meetings around it.
“Our neighbours Nazeem Hattas and Ebrahim Allie, who are both in the building industry, then project managed the demolition. They brought their own labourers, and Mr Hattas’ family even fed the workers. A few shops also donated some substance and Hire-It in Athlone helped with the tools. We mobilised the community. That is an event I will never forget. I realised how easy it was to get people working together for a good cause,” Mr Paulse said.
Mr Ryan said the trouble with the house – which is a family-owned property – started after his brother rented out rooms to “every Dick, Tom and Harry”. In February 2012 the house burnt, which led to the derelict state.
After the demolition, people started complaining about illegal dumping. That is when Mr Paulse once again approached Mr Ryan with his idea of using the space as reading rooms for the community. Mr Ryan agreed, and the two parties signed an agreement which will see Reading and Writing Solutions have the use of the land for at least 10 years.
Mr Paulse spoke with such passion about his plans for these two plots, and in his typically faith-filled manner, he declared that while there was no money to build the reading rooms yet, he was determined to make it a reality.
He has already received overwhelming support from all of the volunteers at Reading and Writing Solutions, Ross Demolition, Anthony van der Rheede from Ikosi Light Steel Houses, as well as Ebrahim Rykliff and Mustapha Jacobs from Architectural Technology.
“I would like to thank and compliment Mr Ryan, as he had many lucrative offers to buy those plots, but we’ve developed a good relationship. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the neighbours who live in close proximity, for their co-operation and patience. We are now at a stage where we must do intensive fundraising. I have the most amazing volunteers, and all of them I met through the Athlone News, which I am also grateful for,” Mr Paulse said.
His vision is to see that the reading rooms create jobs for 30 people. He explained that there will be one room dedicated to early childhood development and the foundation phase, a room for the intermediate phase, one for the senior phase, and post-matric, as well as a study room which will double up as a Trojan Horse history room. Another room will be used as a substance abuse help desk, as well as a child protection and counselling help desk. There will also be a reading room for adults, especially aimed at seniors.
Mr Paulse said the venue could also be used for monthly talks, community meetings, and Saturday mornings will be dedicated to extra tuition for children struggling with reading.
He has called on the community and businesses to support this initiative. The plans for the building have already been drawn up, and the completion of the first phase of this project, will amount to R200 000.
“We need to the community to rally around and see how they can help. This is an investment for our children and our future. We are calling on corporates and local businesses to support us as well,” Mr Paulse said.
If you can assist, contact Mr Paulse at 082 216 2460 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Samantha Faure at 076 368 7898 or email: email@example.com