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Kids Skype PM from transformed community centre

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Technology has enabled Lower Hutt school children to chat to Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, from a transformed community centre named for one of the country’s best-known Prime Ministers, Sir Walter Nash.

Late last year the class of about 50 Taita Central School children had sent the Prime Minister, then pregnant with baby Neve, a bottle of sleep. This year the Prime Minister’s office contacted the class teacher about a Skype session. The teacher suggested using the Taita Library in the Walter Nash Centre as it has the technology.

During the Skype session in May children asked the Prime Minister about her job. Several children stood up and did their pepeha (self-introduction) in a range of languages and they all sang waiata.

Last year a group of eight-year-olds from the same school Skyped scientists wintering over at a very dark Scott Base and asked questions about the aurora, sustainability, what they ate and drank, did for entertainment and whether children were able to visit Antarctica.

The Skype sessions are part of the transformation of community facilities and local lives in the north-east suburb of Taita.

The success of the centre has become the blueprint for more of what the city council calls community hubs.

The centre has combined the existing Walter Nash Stadium sports facility with a new, larger stadium (used for both sports and formal events), meeting rooms and modern library. The cost of the expansion and fit-out was around $12 m and completed about three years ago.

The Walter Nash Centre combines the original Walter Nash Stadium with a second stadium and new library

Towards a million users a year

Use of the expanded facilities is greatly up on the past. Annual user numbers have topped 850,000 visitors in a city that has a population of around 100,000.

The expansion is also having an impact on education, one of the outcomes Hutt City Council was hoping to achieve.

Every day after school there are 200 children using the library. They know the staff by name and the staff know them by name.

Taita’s original single purpose community facilities dated from the 1940s and followed the building of hundreds of state houses nearby. The Walter Nash Stadium was named after celebrated local MP and Prime Minister, the late Sir Walter Nash, who died in 1968.

‘Light years apart’

“The use of the new complex compared to the old stadium is light years apart,” says Ross Barber, the Centre’s Operations Manager.

“No longer just a sports facility, it is now enormously successful.”

The new centre has also hosted two black tie dinners for the Hutt Valley Sports Awards, with about 1100 people at each. It features state of the art lighting, sound system and ventilation.

Orchestra Wellington performed at the dinner and the next night gave a free community concert attended by more than 1000. Locally-based Arohanui Strings, which seeks to transform children through music, also performed at the free concert.

The concert gave locals the opportunity to visit the new venue and also experience orchestral music for free.

Recent big events have included Hutt Valley Polyfest and the RailEx Model Railway Show.

Other uses at the centre have included weddings, a funeral, rock ‘n’ roll champs, judo competition, international volleyball (New Zealand versus Australia), Tall Blacks training, leisure marching, boxing and Plunket clinics. Two churches also use the complex every Sunday.

Mike Mercer, Divisional Manager of the city’s Community Hubs, says the aim has been to create a multi-use facility on one site.

The result has been a massive increase in foot traffic.

As well as providing literacy, arts and recreation services to the community, the expanded facility has created opportunities for local groups to use the extra space.

Mike Mercer, left, and Ross Barber in the complex’s foyer with the library office and reception area in the background

Ross says community ownership of the complex has been high with no graffiti.

There are large numbers of children using the complex after school each day. Mike calls them “the pm shift” with a safe, warm environment where they can do positive stuff.”

Positive benefits for local youth

Taita Community, Constable Kieran Upton, believes the opportunities provided at the Walter Nash Centre are good for local youth and will provide real social benefits for decades to come.

He believes the Centre’s work has led to a drop in calls to police relating to youth activity in the immediate area.

Kieran often attends twilight basketball at the Centre on Friday nights.

“Kids leave happy, fed and exhausted. It’s an absolutely brilliant initiative and I can’t speak too highly of it,” he says.

First events co-ordinator

Emma Peterson has a background in hospitality and is the complex’s first events co-ordinator.

The centre has become a busy place for local and national sport and events.

Sporting leagues include netball, basketball, floorball, volleyball, futsal (indoor soccer), inline hockey, Frisbee and turbotouch (an indoor version of rugby) in the afternoons, evenings and weekends.

Schools use the facilities during the day.

Emma says she’s noticed significant changes in the children during the two years she has been in the role.

Many were quite shy at first but had become more confident and had taken ownership of the centre which they saw as their second home.

Another use was Korikori Kids, a programme of music, music and play for pre-schoolers, with up to 50 children per session.

“It definitely helps their learning, balance and socialisation skills,” Emma says.

Ross says that for many Korikori Kids, it is the only pre-school programme they do.

Emma says the centre has a close relationship with Hutt Valley Netball, which runs the adjacent outdoor netball courts.

Library open seven days

Library manager, Sinead Carroll, says use has increased significantly, partly through expanding opening to seven days a week. Book issues have increased and the 20 public-use computers and wifi are particularly popular. Locally, up to 50 per cent of homes do not have internet. Many adults use the library computers for email, social media, job applications and study.

Library manager, Sinead Carroll, left, and Walter Nash Centre Events Co-ordinator, Emma Peterson, in the new Taita Library, which is now part of the overall complex and replaces a standalone building

The spacious and sunny library is especially popular with children after school, both for somewhere safe to be until they go home and also to do homework. There are also regular class visits by children from the five closest schools.

‘Huge asset’

Tania Cohen, Principal of Taita Central School, describes the centre as a fantastic facility and an enormous asset to our end of the Hutt Valley.

“It is a warm, welcoming and safe place for our community to gather.  It provides engaging experiences for our children.  Having free access to the library and the internet supports our students within the school day as well as allowing them learning experiences after school.

“The sporting facilities allow the children structured physical education sessions during school hours and a place to practise these skills after school, in the weekends and holidays.  We also use the meeting room facilities for our school end of year assembly so our whole community can come together to celebrate our learners’ achievements.”

The library has also hosted a careers expo and runs regular holiday programmes.

Ross says the increase in library use is the opposite of what is happening in many libraries elsewhere in New Zealand.

Stokes Valley’s new community hub has been modelled on the success of the Walter Nash Centre.

Next suburbs on the Hutt City Council plan for a new hub are Naenae and Wainuiomata.

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For further information:

The Walter Nash Centre is at 22 Taine Street, Taita, Lower Hutt

Walter Nash Centre website click here

Facebook click here

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