When you’re running an entire city, there’s a lot to manage — just ask the City of Greater Bendigo team in Victoria, Australia. The city delivers over 65 services to its population of approximately 120,000 residents, and provides infrastructure and services to Victoria’s third-largest economy base.

Managing booking for public spaces is one vital part of the City of Greater Bendigo’s day-to-day operations. It's responsible for spaces at 55 sports fields and a major pavilion, 21 parks and gardens, Vahland Place, Sidney Myer Place, Hargreaves Mall, and Dai Gum San. 

Overhauling a 'dreadful, archaic system'

Until late 2020, bookings were managed using a complex mixture of online and manual back-and-forth, explains Lynda Davis, healthy lifestyles officer (facilities liaison) at the City of Greater Bendigo. It worked like this: someone would fill out an enquiry form, which would go to Lynda, who would log in and check if the space was free. If it was, she would fill in their details, generate a letter, send it to them, and they’d have to sign it and get it back. Then Lynda would generate a confirmation letter and an invoice, and the customer would go to another site to pay. 

“The old system was not only monotonous, but it was not a great experience for customers,” says Lynda. “It was just a dreadful archaic system. And I was always in fear of accidentally double-booking a space for someone’s wedding, which would just have been my worst nightmare.”

Some forward-thinking from the city

Luckily, the council realised the need to invest in a new system, and after a lot of behind-the-scenes research and planning, they began looking for a provider to create a fresh new booking system. Datacom was selected because the proposed system had the most flexibility and the team had experience with similar projects. 

The new system launched in December 2020. It allows members of the public to find spaces and then see maps, photos, and other details about each one. They can check availability, book, and pay online — all in one place. It took off immediately, not only because it was beautifully simple to use, but also because COVID-19 restrictions on indoor gatherings meant small groups were looking for outdoor alternatives. 

“Personal trainers could have 10 people training outside, and choirs could have 10, so those sorts of groups were able to find new spaces and book them online,” says Lynda. “We’re not restricted now, so we have all the usual sports and people-in-parks events, plus some quirkier ones. There’s tai chi going on in the morning in our shopping malls, and hula hoop workshops in some unexpected places. We also discovered groups we didn’t even know existed, like calisthenics and sword fighting — it’s been wonderful.”

Building relationships instead of generating invoices

The other huge benefit to the new system is the way it’s freed up Lynda’s time. No longer required to manually generate paperwork, she’s able to build better relationships with the clubs and groups using the spaces. By getting to know what clubs want, the city can start understanding where improvements need to be made, and Lynda hopes to support local clubs to secure funding grants. She’s also optimistic that other units within the city can start using the system, such as community halls.

In the meantime, Lynda’s getting far more job satisfaction from her role, particularly since she receives so much positive feedback about the system and the city’s facilities.

“The parks have never been busier. With new spaces to explore using the system, people have been going out to local parks they’ve never visited before — and the feedback we get has been, ‘Wow, isn’t it beautiful?’ That’s what we love to hear!” 

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