We are honoured to have had an article written about our new Whanau Centre in Mairehau, due to open at the end of August 2020.

Check out the original article here.

Daily Encourager
August 5, 2020
by Rosemary McLennan

A community space, even more needed since the Covid-19 lockdown, is being created in a small suburban shopping centre in the north-west Christchurch suburb of Mairehau.

Work was under way before lockdown but organisers say the timing to open the drop-in centre’s doors will be perfect as there has been an increased need for community connection.

The Whānau Centre will provide a physical presence for a group called the Neighbourhood Trust to operate in the heart of Mairehau.

During lockdown the Trust began distributing kai boxes. This will continue.

New services likely to be offered at the Whānau Centre include a recruitment hub to help with CV preparation, job applications and interview skills. Since lockdown, many in the local community have had their hours of work reduced or have lost their jobs.

Classes in Te Reo Māori and driver licensing are also planned.

The former retail space is in a small shopping centre on the corner of Nancy Avenue and Ranger Street.

Survey determines needs 

Five years ago, the Neighbourhood Trust, the community arm of St Albans Baptist Church, bought the shop for a craft co-operative.

When the co-operative outgrew the space and moved into the Christchurch CBD, the Trust pondered about a new use.

Members went door to door to survey locals and returned with 200 responses.

ESOL (English as a second language) classes are held in the smaller part of the space and the other section is being renovated into a lounge, which will open as the Whānau Centre.

The Trust has two part-time community workers. Don Benn runs the Kiwi Dads Christchurch programme and, recently, Dawn Hastings was employed to work with women and whānau.

The Mairehau Project is funded largely by the Tindall Foundation with support from Christchurch City Council and several other funders.

They partner with Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi and Kingdom Resources to deliver a range of services in the community, including whānau planning and financial mentoring.

Committed to helping the vulnerable

Te Ora Hou Ōtautahi is a group of people committed to the holistic development of young people, their whānau and communities. Kingdom Resources offers financial planning and mentoring services.

Earlier this year Ngaire Button became the manager of the Neighbourhood Trust. She was part of the team that established the Trust, in 1999, and was Deputy Mayor at the time of the Christchurch earthquakes.

She says the Whānau Centre will support local families in Mairehau and the adjacent suburb of Shirley. These suburbs have quite a vulnerable population and many are facing reduced income due to fewer hours of paid work or losing their employment completely since lockdown.

In the Whānau Centre’s ESOL room are, from left, Roana Johnston (Oscar programme manager), Tom Hitchens (kaumātua from Tūhoe), Don Benn (community development worker), Leanna Dodge (Neighbourhood Trust chair) and Angela Sanderson (financial administrator)

Ngaire says the Centre will support a fantastic community that has a mix of ages. There is a significant number of elderly and many are isolated. Because the Trust has good local knowledge, during lockdown staff phoned local elderly and delivered groceries to those who did not have anyone to help them.

She says the work was underway before lockdown to convert the former co-op space to the Centre so its completion is perfect timing to help meet new needs.

A really fantastic volunteer base in the church has taken care of the transformation as the Trust wants to spend money on people rather than buildings,” says Ngaire.

Ngaire has been tasked with developing a 10-year vision for the centre. Unexpectedly, Covid-19 and the kai box distribution put the centre on the map.

Land at the rear of the building is earmarked for a community garden to provide an opportunity for whānau to grow fruit and vegetables for themselves and their community. The church is already using the land around its car parking area for growing vegetables.