We take things for granted, as if they’re there because they’ve always been there, but without the energy, drive and effort of community stalwart Grev Walker, Helensville would have had to wait much longer for a supermarket, an information centre and a business directory, to name just a few of Grev’s many contributions to this town.
Grev has always been keen to ‘pitch in’(his term) and to work hard. Growing up in Mission Bay he became a scout leader as a teenager. He developed a love of marketing early and left school at 16 to work in an advertising agency and learn the ropes, moving at 20 into the family business Modern Bags, established by his father in 1932,to do advertising and display. His five years spent at the Hamilton branch of the firm led him to a lifetime love of farming, before he returned to Auckland to become Sales Manager and then, at 30, owner and managing director. Under his leadership Modern Bags went from 10 to 25 stores in 15 years, before the company was bought out just months before the 1987 stockmarket crash. By then Grev and his Kaukapakapa-born wife Maureen had moved to a lifestyle block in Dairy Flat, where daughters Rachael and Natalie were born, and then to Waimauku, largely because Maureen didn’t want to bring children up in the city. Grev also farmed 140 acres at Waitakere which he owned with his twin brother Ray. “I just loved it,” says Grev. “I’d rush home from work to farm and the weekends were always spent on the land.”At both Dairy Flat and Waimauku Grev and Maureen, who played representative tennis, were actively involved in the local tennis committees.
Through his connection with Stan Phillips, who went to Kaipara College with Maureen, Grev began working as a steward in the sheep section at the Helensville A&P Show, a role he filled for 16 years,where he enjoyed mixing with farmers and breeders from all around the country. In 1987, he joined the Helensville/Parakai/Kaukapakapa Business Association and, as he says, his active involvement in the town began in earnest. The Walkers invested in Helensville, buying the Progressive Building block, which was in a sad state, and bringing it back to life to the point where it re-entered the town as a building with a useful purpose. Setting up a children’s-wear shop in Progressive, they commuted for about a year then moved to Helensville, buying a house and then the land they eventually built on, where they still live today. Their next project was to lease the Screatons building (now WINZ), refurbish it and establish it as the clothing and gift store ‘Screatons’. Significantly, it also became the site of Helensville’s first information centre, supervised by Maureen and with staff doing the job of answering inquiries.
“I became Chair of the Business Association because no one else wanted to do it. One priority was that, for the town to go ahead, we had to encourage tourism. We knew Helensville was the gem of the South Kaipara, but the promotions group wasn’t coordinated, there was no publicity and the meetings were chaotic,” Grev explains. To get things moving, as Andy’s Advertising Agency he began advertising Kaipara River Valley monthly in the Herald and designed and distributed a Helensville brochure that went out annually to 20,000 recipients.
In 2000, he began the town’s first business directory, a publication now firmly entrenched as an essential point of reference.
Another pressing need was for a supermarket. This 10-year project, which took much of Grev’s time and energy, is an achievement of which he is very proud. It began with two years of meetings with supermarket operators, who needed to be convinced there was a big enoughcatchment population. Grev had to get authority from the owners of the shops and houses on the site to develop the land on their behalf and negotiate the sale. He also had to persuade the town’s shop owners to switch to Saturday trading, one of the conditions required by Woolworths. “That was a major challenge that took a couple of years because it’s a sports-mad town and people didn’t want to open on Saturday mornings,” says Grev. Then there was the bank glitch – the supermarket company required the town to have a bank so, when in 1998 the BNZ and ANZ colluded and closed within a week of each other, Grevand others hastily formed a bank action committee, with the result that within a year the ASB had come to town.
Grev’s involvement with the Business Association, mostly as its Chair, lasted 16 years and only ended when he was elected to Council in 2004. During that time, he was a founding member of the Health Trust, in charge of business initiatives at a critical and demanding time when the maternity hospital was under threat. He also served eight years as a Kaipara College Board trustee.
Another project of which Grev is justly proud is his role as co-founder of Helensville Riverside Heritage, established in 2001 in response to years of public pressure. “The whole twokilometre bank was an unofficial rubbish tip,” says Grev, “and it was probably the only inaccessible riverbank in New Zealand sitting on the doorstep of a rural village.” After several years’ intensive work involving all manner of contributions from the community ranging from labour, to plants, to legal advice, the project was taken over by the Lions who, Grev says, have done a fantastic job finishing it off.
Remembering his six years on the Rodney District Council, Grev is most proud of his contribution to reducing the burglary, fighting, drunkenness, tagging and vandalism that were rife in the late 90s and early 2000s.“The police station here was not coping. We had to get the message out to the community that there has to be respect for people and property, so we mobilised local groups at public meetings and I gathered photographic evidence for several years. Finally, Police Headquarters conducted an audit of the local policing and as a result the hours of operation were increased and we came under the control of the Senior Sergeant at Kumeu. We had a better line of communication and we held monthlySafer Communities meetings. Simultaneously the pubs changed their opening hours and the liquor ban came into force. That made a key contribution to solving the problems.”
Recently Grev, a Justice of the Peace, was presented with a plaque in recognition of his 10 years’ work in setting up and coordinating a JP’s support group for the wider area. Currently, he is coordinating JP services at the Helensville Plunket Rooms on Saturday mornings and he also has work to do as Chair of the Peak Road All Saints Church cemetery committee. Beginning piano lessons when he was six, Grev channels his love of music into being rostered to play the organ at two churches.
So, is he slowing down? “I’m starting to withdraw,” he says. “I definitely want to stop going to meetings, but I’ll continue as a JP and because I really enjoy my music I might increase the number of churches on my roster.We enjoy gardening and running a few sheep. We’re in constant contact with our daughters and our six grandchildren and we enjoy spending time at our Kiwi bach on the Kaipara. As for the contribution I’ve made, you could say for the past 30 years I worked hard on projects because I had a vested interest in the town going ahead but really, I’ve really enjoyed every minute of it.”