Every week hundreds of people visit Ōmokoroa Settlers Hall to sing, dance, paint, draw, exercise, pray, meditate, play, craft, sell their wares and socialise with like-minded individuals.
The historic venue has been a community focal point since 1929 when a small hall was built by Ōmokoroa early settlers for use as a school. A second, larger, hall was built alongside it in the 1970s and together they continue to host every community group and event imaginable – from Tai Chi and Lions Club meetings to line dancing sessions and indoor bowls.
“We’re definitely part of the fabric of the Western Bay,” says Ōmokoroa Settlers Hall Society Incorporated Secretary Trish Clokie. The society owns the facility and Western Bay of Plenty District Council owns the land. The two halls are believed to be the busiest in the region.
“The number of people who have been to school here and who have fond memories of community events…we’re still having people wanting to host birthdays and other celebrations here too. It’s lovely it’s being used as a community hall should.”
The site has a long and proud history and is about to undergo another evolution, with work to renovate and upgrade the small hall due to start in December 2023.
Shortly after the small hall was built, a railway hut was added to the back of it which now serves as a kitchen and storage room. However, the foundations and roof sit lower than the hall itself, and wear and tear over the years now requires the floor and the roof to be replaced.
“We’re lifting and extending the roof to prevent any potential water ingress and raising the floor level of that hut,” Trish explains. “We’re putting in a new kitchen and rejigging the whole thing so there’s no wasted space. And the other exciting thing is we’re upgrading the toilet facilities in both halls, so they’re fit for today’s purposes. They’ll be user-friendly, accessible and modern, there will be more room for people with disabilities, walkers and wheelchair users, and we’re putting in baby change tables too. It’s going to be a lot more appealing to a wider user base.”
Trish says Ōmokoroa used to be mainly a retirement community, but demographics have changed rapidly in recent years. “We need to upgrade these facilities because we have a lot of young people living here now, and to keep our hall going we need to make it inviting and appealing for them to use.”
Local builder Chris Moon, from Moon Construction, will lead the four-month refurbishment and the community has rallied around to fund the project.
BayTrust is one of three main funders (alongside TECT and the Lotteries Commission) and has granted $100,000 from its Community Amenities Fund to upgrade the ageing facilities. The local council has helped pay for new sanitary ware, lighting and security, and the Ōmokoroa Centre Trust has also chipped in.
“We have been absolutely blown away by the response of our three big funders,” Trish says. “We originally started this idea several years ago, but the cost of building has just rocketed. There is no way that without these three major funders, we would be able to afford it.”
Thanks to others’ generosity, the society’s own financial reserves can be spent on adding finishing touches like a new sink for disabled users in the kitchen. “BayTrust have been amazing to deal with. We are so grateful they see our project as something that has value, because we do feel it is important for our community.”
Plans are already afoot to celebrate the re-opening of the small hall in early 2024 which will bring the Ōmokoroa community together once again and create new memories for people to cherish.