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Hall at heart of Smiths Ave community's revival

Published: 15 April 2019

We all want to live in a place where the neighbours look out for you, the environment is cared for and there’s plenty to do. But good communities aren’t born, they’re made.

As part of OurAuckland's Live Local. Love Local month, we talk to Aucklanders striving to make their local areas better, like residents of Smiths Ave in Papakura.

Violet Slade is setting up for another event inside the Smiths Ave hall.

It’s a Tuesday morning, but she already has a decent number of locals with her – some of them helping out, others just catching up.

Slade remembers when the hall wasn’t like this - when it was locked up and underused and people couldn’t even find a key to get into the outdoor toilets.

The community was disconnected from the space. The Smiths Ave hall sits on the corner of a big section, and most of the property is occupied by some dilapidated netball courts.

Slade was one of the few people who went there regularly. Things started to change in earnest about two years ago after Angie Tangaere turned up.

Tangaere is a social entrepreneur at The Southern Initiative, a council organisation charged with championing social and community innovation in south Auckland.

When she arrived in the area, the hall and surrounding reserve had their share of problems, including regular vandalism and alcohol abuse.

Tangaere traces the issues back to the early 1980s when the local premiership netball competition moved out of the area and down the road to Pulman Park.

“That sucked the life out of this place because what we were left with was a site that was no longer fit for purpose,” she says. “It kind of just spiralled into disrepair over time.”

Tangaere embarked on a programme of what she calls “deep empathy” with local whānau, often sitting for hours at a time to talk about what they want for the reserve. It was an attempt to put the concerns of a community at the centre of the efforts to remake the hall – to make them into co-designers.

“We needed to put families and their lived aspirations at the centre of what we’re doing,” she says.

Change is happening

A lot of changes came out of those meetings; the hall has new toilets, its kitchen has been upgraded, a heat pump is going in, and people know where the key to the outdoor toilets is now. Most visibly, the outside of the once-bare building is now covered in murals painted by local and visiting artists.

There’s a pepeha connecting the hall to its history and place, and nearby are two pieces of art that speak to the most important change happening at the Smiths Ave reserve: a heart on the front of the building and a huge print of the word ‘aroha’ at the rear.

Slade and Tangaere say the main thing that’s happened at Smiths Ave is that the hall has transformed into a welcoming and inclusive place, one that serves and connects its community.

It used to have a $20-per-hour fee for hire, which was a barrier for many local residents. That has recently been removed by Papakura Local Board and now it’s used nearly all the time.

Mel Browne, who runs a workshop called Circuit Breakers every Friday at the hall, says it has become a place where everyone feels safe and comfortable. There are no gates or locks, and anyone is free to turn up anytime.

“It’s such a luxury to have people walk over here,” she says. “Other places, they’re locked down. This place, it’s open.”

Refuge for locals 

Sarah Tonga, a Papakura local who helps run a community lunch at the hall every Saturday, says it has become a refuge for some locals.

Smiths Ave is a lower-decile area and some residents face complicated and difficult lives at home, she says.

“A lot of youth or children, they come because maybe home is just too much. When we’re able to open this space for them so they can come be who they want to be and do some positive activities, it changes the way they feel about life.”

Slade says she tries to use the hall to give local families experiences they couldn’t otherwise enjoy.

“Some of our whānau can’t afford to go to some of these flash places in town. So we try to create what they want. If it’s a movie night, we’ll create a movie night. If it’s disco or dancing, we’ll try to do that.”

Find out more about the Smiths Ave project on its Facebook page. 

Live Local. Love Local. Be a part of it!

This month OurAuckland is highlighting examples of the council and the community coming together to drive positive local change.

We're focusing on local diversity, how empowered communities are shaping the future of their neighbourhoods, making the most of local amenities and facilities, as well as caring for their environment and those who are struggling through tough times.

Read all about it at ourauckland.nz/lovelocal

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