by Helen Martin
Following the temporary closure of Alison McKenzie House in 2016, the South Kaipara Men and Family Centre was grateful to find temporary accommodation at the Helensville Women & Family Centre across the road. A permanent home has now been found in the Awaroa Road building formerly housing the Te Awaroa Youth Club, a grand old lady who was formerly the Takapuna Post Office and was transported to Helensville in six pieces by Hans van Duyn’s Eurovision Building Removals in the mid-80s.
Last December, the South Kaipara Men’s Trust (now referred to more commonly as the Men and Family Centre) appointed retired Helensville resident Mike Bridgman as its new manager. His purpose is to re-build and re-energise the Centre, which has evolved considerably since it was set up around 15 years ago “to strengthen the role of fathers within the family” in response to the proliferation of graffiti in the town.
Mike, who had an extensive business background in the media, including roles in sales, marketing and management, and who is also involved in the community through the voluntary literacy group and the Citizens Advice Bureau, is focused on turning the place into a community hub, with the Men and Family Centre as its primary focus. He’s pleased that, with a shared space that now includes a gym corner, a meeting room and a budding library, the building is really coming to life. The Van Duyn family trust, which owns the building, has generously allowed the Men and Family Trust to use the building rent-free for its first year of occupancy. Money must still be found for the operating costs, and a considerable part of Mike’s time is spent bringing in and managing funding from organisations such as Foundation North and the Community Organisation Grants Scheme (COGS). The local branch of St John and others have donated things like kitchen equipment. More recently a generous local donated a fridge/freezer.
Currently Mike is working on building six specific activities at the Centre. Four are already well underway: the literacy group, which has been under the Trust since it was formed three years ago, has five tutors currently helping local people with literacy issues. The plan is to bring more volunteer tutors into the programme to meet increasing client numbers; South Kaipara Youth Trust (SKYouth), also running for several years, is now also using the space. This not-for-profit organisation supports community-led youth initiatives in the South Kaipara area. With a weekly youth club for 11–15-year-olds, together with the Kaipara Men’s Centre, SKYouth supports pathways for youth-led initiatives including literacy support, and runs community movie nights and a homework club; local St John cadets are also pleased to be able to use the space for weekly training as their numbers are growing; a women’s exercise group meets there regularly and rents space for their exercise programme.
Two more projects are in the beginning stages. A support group for solo dads is being built around a workshop concept, because, as Mike says, ”Men talk better while they’re making things.” Generous donations of tools and a bench are helping turn this project into a reality.
Last, but by no means the least, the raised gardens already in place will be cleared and replanted, with a view to having a thriving community asset right at the back door. Mike’s plan is that the gardens will be an important learning site and provide seasonal produce.
Collaborating with other agencies in Helensville is a key part of the plan and the Men and Family Centre takes part in monthly community support meetings where all the agencies in the town get together and talk about what they’re doing. As Mike explains, “Collaboration between agencies is vital, especially given that there’s so much voluntary work underpinning our local community.“
by Helen Martin