Tahunanui Community Centre manager Judy Robinson outside the centre's new building on Muritai St. Photo: Andrew Board.

Tahunanui gets new building for community centre

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Tahunanui’s Community Centre will double in size at the end of the month when it takes possession of the former Pacific Island Afternoon Study building on Muritai St.

The move will be celebrated with a special one-day event on October 30, but the manager of the centre, Judy Robinson, says the significance for the region will last for years.

“This is the biggest thing to happen to this centre for a long time.”

The centre currently operates out of a building beside Burrell Park but it also houses an early childhood education centre. The success of that centre means there is very little space for other activities. By adding the new hall to the centre it means they will be able to host yoga and pilates, youth groups, a drop-in centre, card games for older folk, a seed library, health services and cooking groups – activities community centres traditionally host.

But it almost didn’t happen.

The building is on council land but was originally owned by St John, it was then bought by the Nelson Pacific Island Afternoon Study Programme Incorporated, ran by Jan and Phil Fa’avae.

For years they hosted community activities and ran collections of goods to be sent to the Pacific Islands.

Activities began to wind down several years ago and Judy says she began to hold discussions with the trust about taking over the building.

“They were going really well, and then Jan suddenly died and things went on hold for a while.”

Discussions with the council then begun and it looked as if the community centre would have access to it in January last year, then the building was deemed a risk in the event of an earthquake so the council renegotiated the price and work had to be done to strengthen it.

Judy admits that for a while there she doubted they would ever get it.

“To be honest I was giving up then, I thought it just wasn’t going to happen. We’d run programmes here to us at huge cost because we just didn’t have the space. We lost staff because it looked like we were going nowhere.”

But then, suddenly, it did happen.

“[Deputy mayor] Paul Matheson, really, he’s been pushing it along and now we’re here and I can’t believe it.”

Since the keys were handed to the centre last month volunteers have been lending a hand to paint, landscape and fit out the hall. Judy says, ultimately, they’d like to open a small health suite so locals can have BeWell checks and other services.

“Tahuna needs this. It needs somewhere for families. Just in the past five years the families coming to us are quite different. We’re not seeing working parents drop off their kids. The families are more needy and that’s the good thing about us being a community centre, not just an early childhood centre,” says Judy.

“Some are estranged from their families so they don’t have that support and others are struggling with income and lack of skills. We are now better equipped to help these people.”

The celebration event to coincide with the opening of the centre’s new building will be from 12pm on Saturday, October 30, at the centre on Muritai St.