SYDNEY Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will make greater use of volunteers’ skills and reunite its office and workshop in an effort to bring the festival to surplus — effectively reversing a number of changes made to the organisation over the last five years.

In an interview with the Star Observer, acting chief executive Michele Bauer also said the sheer size of the parade, as well as wave of construction in Sydney, would inevitably have an effect on the future shape of the festival.

[showads ad=MREC]The discussion comes as Mardi Gras officially announces its festival dates for 2016 with the parade and party taking place on Saturday, March 5.

Going forward, Bauer said Mardi Gras will make more use of volunteers’ professional expertise.

This follows a blow-out in staffing costs which was cited as one of the major factors behind 2014’s $178,000 loss.

Since then a number of employees have been let go and, last month, Mardi Gras treasurer Damien Hodgkinson told the Star Observer that staff savings of $65,000 would begin to be realised in the coming year.

“It’s not about taking up the slack, it’s actually recognising the power of being a volunteer,” Bauer said.

She said solicitors or human resources professionals, for instance, might like to share their knowledge.

“There are a lot of people out there who are highly skilled who do want to utilise those skills for the benefit of the community.”

According to the group’s annual reports, employee wages grew by more than $150,000 between 2012 and 2014 while permanent staff numbers doubled between 2013 and 2014.

Around the same time there were grumblings from some that many previous volunteer positions, which were relatively highly skilled and available year-round, had been cut.

“There is merit in going back to that, there are people out there who would love to do half a day a week over how many months,” Bauer said.

So, did the organisation overexpand when it came to staff?

“That’s a hard question,” Bauer said.

“I won’t ever understand what those full set of circumstances are so I can only sit where I sit now and that’s what I have to base my decisions on.”

In 2010, Mardi Gras left its previous base in Sydney’s inner west, with administrative staff moving to Oxford St while the workshop – where many of the parade’s famous floats are created – was left without a permanent home.

“We can’t do as much because we have to move everything out of storage, then we have finite time to build, then we have to pack everything back up and that doesn’t give as much time and space to community groups,” Bauer said.

A return to the inner west is on the cards, said Bauer.

“As important as Oxford St will always be, and clearly the parade will be here, at the same time it is very important to remarry what we do.”

She also said the parade had effectively reached capacity and questions would have to be asked about its future shape.

More than 10,500 people in 144 entries took part in 2015 and, according to Bauer, “if you saw the parade from the rooftops down, the street was packed, they were back to the shop fronts with people”.

“The answer may be that’s its actually perfect the way it is or the answer may be turning the parade around, there are multiple solutions but the city is changing,” she said.

“Tram lines are going in, the Entertainment Centre is being rebuilt, the whole city is in a massive change phase so that ultimately is going to affect us.”

Mardi Gras will hold an extraordinary general meeting regarding proposed change to its constitution on August 8.

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