“We hope this project will inspire others”: Moonee Valley Sustainability’s Cool, Safe Space

In response to the growing threat of extreme heat, Moonee Valley Sustainability, a volunteer run community group in Melbourne’s north-west, has embarked on a project to transform their Ascot Vale headquarters into a Cool, Safe Space. They want to provide a refuge for local residents during the coming summers, protecting them from the dangers of heat-related illness that often arise from staying in dangerously hot homes during heatwaves.

A cool safe space is a location or facility that provides a comfortable environment for people to escape extreme heat during a heatwave. These spaces are critical because not everyone has access to air conditioning or can afford to run it continuously during a heatwave. In addition, some people may live in homes that are
not well-insulated or ventilated, making it difficult to escape the heat.

We spoke to Logan Shield from Moonee Valley Sustainability about the process of designing a Cool, Safe Space and their crucial role in combating the escalating threat of extreme heat for communities.

The Moonee Valley Sustainability headquarters, which is being transformed into a Cool, Safe Space.

Why are you building a cool, safe space and what impact do you think it will have for the Moonee Valley community?

The aim of our project to convert our headquarters at Dwell, a community hall at the Ascot Vale Church Of Christ, into a Cool Safe Space is first and foremost:

to provide a refuge for the most vulnerable members of our community, who often don’t have air-conditioning or the ability to alter their living situation, to use during periods of extreme heat, especially overnight when high temperatures are quite dangerous to human health. 

As there aren’t really many current examples of this out there, we hope to use this as a pilot project to understand some of the challenges involved and advocate for more of these spaces to be provided.

The inside of the Moonee Valley Sustainability headquarters.

Could you provide insights into the design process, logistics, and creation of the space?

The starting point for this project was a Building Vulnerability Assessment (BVA) report carried out by the Yarra Energy Foundation. They provided a series of recommended upgrades to improve occupant comfort, increase building resilience, reduce energy loads and lower greenhouse gas emissions. We then developed a high level master plan for how to implement those changes including rough costings. From there we have started to seek quotes and apply for grants for each stage of the work. 

We’ve just completed the first stage which was to install a shade sail to cover the western wall & windows from the harsh summer sun. 

Design layout for Moonee Valley Sustainability’s Cool, Safe Space.

What measures can be taken to ensure cool, safe spaces are fit for purpose and accessible to the public throughout the summer?

In terms of the building fabric itself, upgrades are generally about reducing the heat load by external shading, increasing thermal efficiency with insulation, double (or triple!) glazing and draught proofing. Then air-conditioning can be run more efficiently, preferably off rooftop solar or other renewable energy. Battery storage or a connection to a community battery would also assist if there are power outages. 

The windows and ceiling of Moonee Valley Sustainability’s current headquarters. The hall is not properly insulated and the windows are not sufficiently glazed to keep the space cool during summer.

As for use of the building, we’re yet to develop protocols around who will be able to use the space, during what times, for how long, etc, however given that Dwell already has a good relationship with, and care for, many vulnerable locals, we aim to develop that part of the project in collaboration so we can then share the challenges and findings with others. 

Moonee Valley Sustainability holds frequent community events at their Ascot Vale headquarters.

Do you think this will inspire other community groups to create similar cool, safe spaces?

We sure hope so!

At this early stage, we’ve already had some conversations with other groups who expressed interest in developing their own Cool Safe Space, so we are hopeful that this project will inspire others and also be a good basis for advocacy to government and perhaps business as well to start working on similar projects. 

What initiatives or programs do you have in place to educate the community about the importance of staying cool and safe during the summer?

As a small, volunteer run community group, we’re not quite ready for bigger education campaigns to raise awareness, however we are always active on our social media and run events where we are constantly discussing issues relevant to our local community. 

We’re also currently developing a long term strategic plan that has ‘Resilient Buildings’ as one of 5 key themes where we are working on how we can most effectively act, advocate, educate and collaborate to achieve our goal to ensure that our homes are cool and climate safe. 

Any progress updates?

Part of the first stage of the project was completed yesterday with the installation of the shade sail (see below!).

You can keep up with Moonee Valley Sustainability on their website: https://mvsustainability.org.au/

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