Three Chairpersons, One Legacy: The SAFRA Punggol Chronicles

No better way to visualise SAFRA Punggol’s journey than from the lens of its three successive chairpersons.

By Sean Yee        19 December 2023

How would you describe SAFRA Punggol if asked? A hub for like-minded patrons? A second home for families? Or a fitness centre for the health-conscious? Perhaps, all of the above. But one thing is certain – it is built to to embody the medley of narratives, themes and aspirations of the many who serve and protect our nation. Everyone has a chapter in this ever-growing storybook. 

Part of SAFRA Punggol’s story are the records of three pivotal figures who have nurtured, shaped and grown this clubhouse since its inception. We sat with three of SAFRA Punggol Executive Committee’s successive chairpersons to discuss its origin story, developments and future. 

Building a multi-generational clubhouse from the ground up

Revitalised as a waterfront town, Punggol introduced a full-fledged waterway in 2007 that ran through the entire district, complementing its many gardens and parks. Punggol is an architectural and social canvas that is replete with contemporary innovations, and SAFRA wanted to be a part of its growing ecosystem. 

LTC (NS) Terence Quek Chun Hou, SAFRA Punggol Executive Committee’s first chairperson, remembers its origin story fondly. “It was a novel enterprise, both thematically and strategically,” he shared. “Nothing about it was formulaic. SAFRA Punggol began as a blank slate that was brought about by a desire to serve our NS men and women.” Having helmed SAFRA Punggol’s now-defunct Concept Committee, he worked extensively with SAFRA’s various stakeholders to conduct focus groups with the NS community to better understand what they really wanted from a clubhouse that was meant to represent them. 

“The interests and wants of our servicemen and women are the bedrock of SAFRA’s formative principles. We were so excited to hear from all kinds of NSmen and women, and have their opinions shape the foundations of SAFRA Punggol,” he said. Terence and his team wanted a social hub that had something for every NS patron.

Chalets, gyms, retail stores and even an infinity pool – the concept board was soon brimming with ideas shared by people from all walks of life. Conceptual pruning was the next step. Terence admitted, “We ran through countless ideas from our focus groups to figure out SAFRA Punggol’s core theme. The clubhouse couldn’t be too dull, but it couldn’t be too outlandish. Not to mention that it needed to be forward-looking as well. We can’t just deconstruct the place whenever the tides turn. So, are these ideas going to be relevant 5 to 7 years down the road? Demographic needs are constantly shifting, and we needed a blueprint that would allow the club to evolve alongside its community.” 

They eventually decided on a unifying theme that plays up Punggol’s naturalistic qualities. The clubhouse features many open spaces that are seamlessly interconnected with the district’s most definitive landmarks, including its park connectors, Punggol’s Regional Sports Centre, and an integrated lifestyle hub. SAFRA Punggol stretches out like an open book, presenting an unobstructed and picturesque vista of the waterfront town. 

November 24, 2016 marked a day of many firsts for SAFRA when its Punggol clubhouse was officially opened to the public. It houses SAFRA’s first indoor aquatic theme park and was the first of SAFRA’s many clubhouses to attain the Green Mark Platinum award.  

(L-R) SLTC (NS) Patrick Koh, MAJ (NS) Khoo Sze Boon and LTC (NS) Terence Quek.

Terence, who is also the current chairman of SAFRA Mount Faber’s Executive Committee, understands all too well that the work never stops. “The goalpost is ever moving. There isn’t a one-fix-all solution that spans across all generations.” He is optimistic though, that the current executive committee is more than up for the task. 

“The hard work of SAFRA’s staff team is often understated. Our continuing mission to improve and enhance the lives of NSmen and women is enabled by the brilliant day-to-day team that turns our ideas into reality. The collaborative synergy between their team and the executive committee is definitely a force to reckon with,” he affirms.

Caught in the middle of a pandemic

Like most Singaporeans, MAJ (NS) Khoo Sze Boon was involuntarily entangled in a web of uncertainty during the onset of Covid-19. Then the chairperson of SAFRA Punggol’s Executive Committee and Terence’s successor, he and his team knew they needed to act fast, lest they get overwhelmed by the barrage of conflicting information.

“It caught us off-guard, that’s for sure,” recalled Sze Boon. Thankfully, he had just overseen the revamp of SAFRA Toa Payoh prior to his induction into this executive committee and was no stranger to innovation and risk management. He immediately went to work with his team together with SAFRA Punggol’s staff team to ensure that precautionary protocols were in place. And he knew that the situation demanded a bold and unconventional response.

“There were a lot of improvisations. We knew as much as everyone else,” he confessed. “I’m so proud that we were willing to push the boundaries then.” If anything, this unpredictable circumstance best illustrates how quickly expectations and needs can change. 

Reopening after the circuit breaker was another herculean task that confronted the team. While eager for patrons to fill up SAFRA Punggol’s many spaces, he knew it was an incredibly delicate task. Sze Boon stressed that “we needed to reopen ethically and responsibly. There must be standard operational procedures (SOP) put in place to ensure that there is a consistency in our approach to our patrons’ safety.” Amongst SAFRA Punggol’s many visitors were parents with kids who were rightfully concerned about their children’s safety. 

There was also the matter of repositioning – Covid-19 had indisputably transformed the notion of contemporary living, and SAFRA Punggol needed to once again reach out to displaced patrons. “Our solutions, while novel, were untested. We introduced virtual classes and crowd control measures, all the while exploring new ways to re-engage our NS community,” he said.

Since the pandemic, Sze Boon has observed that the social landscape has evolved tremendously. Rapid digitalisation has redefined convenience, candid social discourse has placed a national spotlight on mental health and a need for diversity and inclusivity has introduced a wider range of interests and needs.

Today, he is the chairperson of SAFRA Tampines Executive Committee and a member of SAFRA’s Strategic Review Committee. “We are currently trying to introduce more interest groups and events that are more in tune with prevailing trends. Just recently, we hosted DoujinFes, a cosplay convention at SAFRA Tampines!” he shared excitedly. 

And to Patrick, Sze Boon reiterates the necessity of comradery and positive synergy. “Trust in your team! The executive committee and staff team are incredibly experienced. Continue to do what you do, which is to uphold SAFRA’s legacy for NSmen, by NSmen.” 

Cool, calm and collected

SLTC (NS) Patrick Koh Ley Boon isn’t new to the burdens and responsibilities of leadership. Prior to his role as SAFRA Punggol’s third and current Executive Committee chairperson, he had served as its Vice Chairman while spearheading his own entrepreneurial business. This is in addition to his voluntary role at the Boys Brigade, which he has serving for 25 years, and his alma mater’s management committee. 

Just two years ago, Patrick’s unwavering dedication to SAFRA earned him a 10-year Long Service Award, and deservingly so. His enthusiasm for the NS community stems from his own positive experiences during his military service. “I really enjoyed my time in the army,” he said as he reminisced fondly about the friendships he had formed during his service. Looking for a platform to extend the the camaraderie he had personally witnessed to the public, he naturally gravitated towards voluntary work at SAFRA.

“I strongly believe in paying it forward. There were people who readily mentored, supported and inspired me during my formative years, and it is great to be able to help others who need that same push,” shared Patrick. 

While he has overseen multiple projects during his years of voluntary service, his very purpose remains as resolute as his first day at SAFRA. “I would love for SAFRA to be that recreational space for NSmen to continue the friendships they have formed during their military service,” he remarks.

SAFRA Punggol had successfully braced itself against Covid-19, but it now faces a new challenge that Patrick is working to overcome. “Our members are growing up,” he observed. There is a noticeable scarcity of youth-oriented facilities and activities, apart from its EnergyOne Gym and the occasional jamboree. Covid-19 had stalled many of the initiatives that the committee had in its pipeline.

“The very first thing I did after the handover was re-evaluate how we can introduce opportunities for youths to come together. It really is a matter of how we can reinvigorate SAFRA Punggol’s social nightlife so that young adults can unwind at SAFRA Punggol at night. The club loses a bit of momentum in the later parts of the evening when enrichment classes have concluded and visitors are done with their time at the gym. We want to recapture that vibrancy even as the day settles down,” Patrick shares. He also stresses that it is important that the club grows alongside its members. 

(L-R) MAJ (NS) Khoo Sze Boon, LTC (NS) Terence Quek and SLTC (NS) Patrick Koh at SAFRA Punggol’s Lifestyle Mart.

When discussing his predecessors, Terence and Sze Boon, he humbly expresses his admiration and gratitude for the path they have paved. “They have done a great job creating a thriving club that the Punggol community can feel proud of.” 

To Patrick, we wish you all the best!

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