New club a hit with future lifeguards

Voluntary weekend lifeguards test out their new tower while on patrol at the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service last week. Photo: Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media.

Paddy Mitchell may only be seven, but he’s already got his future mapped out.

“I'm going to do Oceans, then I’ll become a rookie, then I’ll be a senior and then I’ll become a fully qualified lifeguard," he explains, pausing momentarily before adding: “And that means I can save peoples’ lives.”

The Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service junior knows exactly what that entails; older siblings Henry, Charlotte and Freddie are all at various stages of their lifeguarding journey, while parents Grant and Leanna are also heavily involved.

Now, thanks to a swell of community support and the incredible backing of various funders, Paddy and his good friend, six-year-old Ziggy Lowry, have a fully-funded, brand-new lifeguard centre to learn their lifeguarding roles over the next few generations.

The previous building was demolished last April. This Saturday, exactly 51 weeks later, the wider Tauranga public will get to see what they’ve helped to build with a public open day between 1-4pm.

Paddy, for one, is vastly impressed by the new world-class lifesaving facility, on the same site occupied by the club since 1929.

“I like the lights and the tables,” he says. “I like that it’s bigger, I like that it’s got more bathrooms, I like that it’s got two bars and I like the showers - I like everything about it!”

The same pause followed, as he thought about what else he liked, before adding: “It’s good to play hide 'n seek in!”

The $3.4million project has transformed the facility. The previous building was nearly 40 years old and was struggling to remain relevant, both with Tauranga’s population explosion and with skyrocketing costs of maintenance.

TECT’s $700,000 contribution to the project was the largest, although the likes of NZ Lotteries, Tauranga City Council, Grassroots Trust, Lion Foundation, Bay Trust, NZCT, McKay Strathnaver and the Infinity Foundation have all made sizeable and meaningful contributions.

There were also significant private donations, from the likes of the Hillsdene Charitable Trust and the Kastan Trust, while more than $100,000 was raised at last year’s Ladies Charity Luncheon.

MMLS chairman Paul Manning says they were extremely grateful, not only to the funding agencies but to the wider public.

“It feels like the whole of Tauranga has got behind this project and we are so appreciative of everything our community has done for us,” Paul says.

“It means we will be able to return the favour, with our new facility meaning our volunteer lifeguards will be better able to prevent drownings and respond to incidents.”

Lifeguards have already noticed significant improvements in the new building. The lifeguard tower is nearly a full metre higher than the old one, giving a much better view of the beach. There’s also more space for valuable lifesaving equipment, and training areas have been greatly enhanced.

In addition, two new function spaces have prompted the MMLS board to rethink the way the club is set up.

“This new facility gives us the chance to be much more self-sufficient, and able to host multiple events at the same time,” adds Paul.

“To make the most of this, we’re creating new staffing roles, including a chief executive officer able to harness the amazing passion of our volunteers and staff and be the face of our organisation, and an events manager, who will not only promote and book events but will plan and organise the functions from start to finish.”

Fresh from their success at last weekend’s national championships, Paul is looking forward to showing off the club to the general public during Saturday’s open day.

The junior surf committee will host a sausage sizzle, award-winning ice cream makers Kowhai Creamery will be there dispensing their deliciousness, and the public can take a tour of the new building and watch a time-lapse of construction, filmed by local photographer Chris Parker.

“Our friends down the coast at Papamoa Surf Lifesaving Club are about to start their own rebuilding project, and we would love to use our open day to help create awareness of what an amazing job all Bay of Plenty lifeguards do,” says Paul.

“Our new facilities will be there for generations to come, so that lifeguards like Paddy and Ziggy have a world-class base to help save more lives.”