New community centre sought

Merivale Community Centre general manager Sophie Rapson with plans for the new purpose-built centre.

After 24 years, the old converted house on Kesteven Avenue that houses the Merivale Community Centre has had its day.

But the work that goes on inside the centre is more important than ever, and that’s why plans for a new $3.5 million centre will be presented to Tauranga City Council’s Community and Culture Committee next week and a request made for a 25 per cent contribution. The remainder of the funding will be sought from community grants and donations.

General manager Sophie Rapson says the centre is an amazing facility to have in the community and it makes do with what it has, but with little private meeting space and a converted garage housing the after-school programme, it is not fit for purpose.

“The new centre will make a massive difference to the lives of the children in Merivale and their families,” says Sophie. “It will increase our capacity to deliver the programmes and services we do and be a beacon of hope to families living in challenging circumstances.”

Labour list MP and former principal of Merivale School, Jan Tinetti, says the new centre is “crucial” for the Merivale community.

“I’ve been involved with that community for 11 years now and I’ve seen that centre very close to closing twice over the time I’ve been there. It is a conduit for the rest of the community and works very closely with the people who need extra support and help.

“Sometimes they will see 50-60 people a day and those people don’t know where else to go.”

Jan says other than the school, the community centre is a “safe” place for Merivale’s young people and a facelift is long overdue.

“No one should have to work in those conditions. I hate that in low socio-economic areas it becomes acceptable. You’re almost saying that ‘you don’t matter as much’ and it shouldn’t be like that. They should have a purpose-built centre that is fit for that community.”

The main focus of the centre is to provide a space for young people to learn and grow. It offers after-school and school holiday programmes, as well as youth mentoring and leadership programmes.

“We also work with the families surrounding these kids,” says Sophie. “We have a whanau support contract that provides budgeting, counselling and social work support. We also refer people to the services they need.

“It’s very hard to do that work in this space because we don’t have any confidential spaces to work in.”

The council owns the land the community centre is on and provides the site rent-free, with the centre surviving on funding from government contracts, grants, donations and fundraising. There are only four paid staff, with the remainder made of up volunteers.

The proposed new centre will include a large central meeting space, two classrooms, a computer room, outdoor play area and garden, private meeting spaces and a commercial kitchen.

Sophie says the new centre will be a meeting place not just for the Merivale community, but also the wider Tauranga community.

“We’ll be able to have more community events and be able to provide more space for people to use. It will benefit all of Tauranga Moana, not just Merivale.

“But it is important to invest in the people who live here as well. They pay rates like everyone else and I think it’s time for some serious investment in these established communities as well as our newer communities. It’s a pretty special place.”