PREMIER DIGS IN: Premier Daniel Andrews, Bendigo West MP Maree Edwards, Bendigo East MP Jacinta Allan & City of Greater Bendigo Mayor Margaret O’Rourke at site of Bendigo mosque.

The first sod has been turned on the construction of the Bendigo Islamic Community Centre.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews joined Member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan, Member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards, City of Greater Bendigo Mayor Margaret O’Rourke and Bendigo Muslim and community leaders to turn the first ceremonial sod on the site this morning.

The first significant works will be the beginning of construction of the two-storey multi-purpose building, which will be used for activities such as meetings, educational events and social, interfaith and wider community gatherings.

Further stages include the prayer hall – which will house up to 375 worshippers – car park and traffic works, the impressive central courtyard, library, funeral and classroom facilities, a sports hall, café, minaret and caretaker’s residence.

Bendigo construction company Searle Bros has won the contract to build the Bendigo Islamic Community Centre.

BICC spokesperson and Bendigo GP Aisha Neelam said the Bendigo Muslim community was humbled with the community’s support.

“The Bendigo Islamic Community Centre will be built around one thing – the Bendigo community,” Dr Neelam said.

“The BICC will be a place to pray but it will be much more than a mosque. It will be somewhere people can meet, hold functions, play sport and even grab a coffee.

“Everyone will be welcome there, just as they are welcome in any church or community centre.”

Dr Neelam said the BICC had been designed with Bendigo in mind.

“The building will complement its beautiful natural surrounds, and has been designed to deliver a bright, open and welcoming space for everyone,” she said.

“We love where we live, we feel welcome here and we want to use this facility to reach out to the Bendigo community.

“Muslims first came to Bendigo during the Goldrush, and today we feel very much a part of the community. Our families are like any other in Bendigo. We work here, we’re your neighbours, our kids go to school here, we volunteer. We love that Bendigo has something for everyone.

“We have been coming together to pray as a Muslim community in Bendigo since 1997. Our facilities have been pretty limited and we’re excited to be taking this step to build something that is more than a mosque for the whole community to enjoy.”

Dr Neelam thanked the state government for its $400,000 contribution to the first stage of construction.

“Premier Daniel Andrews has been a supporter of this project since the very beginning, and he understands perfectly the benefits that diversity and multi-culturalism bring to Bendigo and Victoria,” she said.