A prominent Lydiard Street building could soon be transformed into a major community hub for volunteers under newly revealed plans.
Philanthropic organisation the Ballarat Foundation will publicly launch details of its $2.4 million Ballarat Centre for Volunteering and Charity project on Friday.
The project will aim to transform the Chatham House building to a volunteering hub, providing training facilities, office spaces and an interactive display of volunteering opportunities.
Ballarat Foundation chief executive Andrew Eales said the facility had the capability to strengthen and grow the volunteering sector, which would be important in the region's COVID recovery and long-term growth.
"I am really excited about the capabilities we think we can build by creating an environment which encourages and supports people to give in the community," he said.
"I think this is going to be a real key need around a response to getting back into the COVID normal world."
A pre-feasibility assessment by Deloitte found there was economic and social benefit from increasing the number of volunteers in the Central Highlands region.
The total value of organised volunteering in the Central Highlands was estimated to be $172.4 million in 2019.
The study found $1.7 million in benefits would be generated if the volunteering hub could uplift volunteering hours by one per cent.
This benefit would increase to $8.6 million in benefits if volunteering hours were increased by five per cent.
This benefit calculation does not include the improved mental well-being, confidence, self-esteem and physical health experienced by volunteers.
If the Ballarat Foundation was to provide this space for organisations such as us it would be a godsend because it will give us somewhere we could easily access.Jackie Warner, Association for Honorary Justices
Mr Eales said planning for the redevelopment of Chatham House was in its final stages, but the foundation would continue to work with volunteer organisations to address their needs.
The pre-feasibility assessment found personal costs for volunteers, a lack of integration causing confusion and fatigue, a lack of publicly available training spaces and issues attracting volunteers with certain skill sets were challenges currently facing organisations.
Royal Victorian Association of Honorary Justices Ballarat branch secretary Jackie Warner said the group had struggled to access a public facility to run training sessions for Justices of the Peace and Bail Justices in past years.
"In 2018 the legislation changed and we had to train up all our JPs," she said.
"Trying to find somewhere we could do that, that wasn't going to cost, was hard because we have no income."
Ms Warner said she was eventually able to secure use of the Town Hall on the weekend without the usual high charge, but the training sessions had not proceeded due to COVID-19.
She said finding free large meeting spaces was also a problem, so was the cost of printing or photocopying.
"If the Ballarat Foundation was to provide this space for organisations such as us it would be a godsend because it will give us somewhere we could easily access," Ms Warner said.
"We need to be able to provide professional training in a space that is easily accessible."
The Ballarat Foundation currently promotes, co-ordinates and supports volunteering across the region in its role as Volunteering Ballarat.
The organisation purchased Chatham House in 2018 with the intention of turning the building into a community asset.
The building has a basement and two floors and is in the heart of Ballarat's professional, cultural and educational precinct.
It is proposed the hub would address volunteer challenges by leading training, improving collaboration and knowledge sharing, providing communal meeting and training spaces, a one-stop-volunteering-shop and increased visibility for the sector.
A further $1.74 million is required to complete the redevelopment.
The foundation is currently seeking funding support from state and federal government representatives.
Mr Eales said if the required funding was secured, construction work could begin next year.
"We think this project would be a great one to generate some activity in Ballarat's CBD through the construction phase which is also going to support local businesses," he said.
Around 19 per cent of Central Highland residents had volunteered for an organisation or group in 2016, according to Australia Bureau of Statistics data.
This was higher than the state percentage of 16 per cent.
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.