An impressive new wharekai will soon open its doors at Te Koutu Marae in Rotorua and promises to be so much more than just a building.
“It will become the hub of our community where people can come together,” explains Project Lead Lauren James.
“The wharekai will help our tamariki and their whanau to thrive. It’s a purpose-built building that our entire community will have access to, no matter what ethnicity you are, to be able to gather for a whole range of activities, events and celebrations.”
Te Koutu Marae Trustees and local families have spent almost a decade fundraising $2.4m to build a 500m² kitchen and dining facility that will replace the run-down building that was there before.
Once complete in February 2020, it will be capable of hosting up to 180 people for a sit-down meal. But Lauren says the multi-purpose design will allow it to be used for a great many things.
“Koutu is a community with high levels of deprivation and socio-economic issues but we don’t let this define us. We have a strong sense of community connectedness. The wharekai rebuild is about our marae being able to provide a community-based facility for our families, community and agencies to use to help our whanau to flourish,” she says.
In addition to supporting Maori cultural practices, trustees envisage people will be able to provide services such as antenatal classes, after-school care programmes, driver licensing education, staff training, nutritional and budget cooking classes, amongst other ideas.
“Community agencies can come and deliver services from here on a permanent basis,” Lauren says. “The District Health Board for example, are wanting to have some of their professional training delivered in a marae setting to support clinicians to better understand how they can engage with Maori communities to improve health services for them. So there’s a whole range of activities we see going on in the new building.”
The initial funds were gifted by a number of organisations including Te Puni Kōkiri and the Department of Internal Affairs (via their Oranga Marae programme), as well as Ngāti Whakaue Assets Trust, Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust and Ngāti Whakaue Tribal Lands.
But the project hit a snag when it came time to sign the contract with the builder.
“We thought we had all the funding in place but when we went to sign the contract with the builder there was a seven percent rise in inflation which was huge. We actually had no idea how we were going to meet that,” she explains.
“When you’ve invested so much time and effort and you’re so close to the finish line, to then have that line move a little bit more was gutting.”
Fortunately, BayTrust’s annual Community Amenities Fund was open for applications and has granted $125,000 to cover the shortfall.
“The reality is we wouldn’t have been able to install any of the kitchen equipment. We would only have had a partially-functioning building,” Lauren says.
“BayTrust coming on board means we can finish this purpose-built building to allow our community to do a whole range of activities that will strengthen and build our community.”
The internal fit-out is now underway and Lauren and her fellow trustees are excited to see all their hard-work come to fruition this summer. It’s expected between 3500-4000 local Rotorua residents will benefit from the new wharekai over time.
“It really is about us being able to provide facilities for our community that people will be able to enjoy for years to come.”