New centre a true ‘labour of love’
It’s a story about the power of people to transform a community and how with enough determination anything is possible.
When small community based early learning centre, Forum North Childcare & Education Centre, was told by the Whangarei District Council in 2012 the land the centre was sitting was needed for a development project it was a case of déjà vu.
The same thing had happened in 1993 and the centre had already been shifted once. It could have seemed like the end but the centre’s staff and parents were not going to see this happen.
“It’s a labour of love,” says centre manager Deanna Niha who has worked at the centre for over two decades.
“We have worked hard to create a sustainable centre and we couldn’t let that end because of all those that have worked so hard to get it to where it is. You can either roll over or take it as an opportunity to create something wonderful.”
With support from Council and local Iwi Parawhau a new site was found and the lease this time was secured for 33 years.
But before a decision was reached staff was taken to the site, walked around and got a feel for the land and space, says Deanna.
The site sits beneath the local Maunga (mountain) Parihaka and alongside the local Awa (river), Hatea. Local kaumatua blessed the site before building took place and a kahatu (piece of stone treasure) was buried by kaumatua in a secret place on the site to link the centre to the land.
The design of the new centre, by Dawson Design and built by Jennian Homes Northland, also reflects the traditions of the past with an eye to the future.
Deanna says that when initial discussions took place regarding the design of the building the focus was to create a place that was reflective of the beliefs and centre kaupapa as well as acknowledge those who had gone before.
Items will be taken from the old centre and used in the new building and there are plans for pou to be erected at some stage that reflect the past, present and future generations.
“From the first conceptual meetings with Forum North Childcare, it was important to link the building to the land. Mount Parihaka and the Hatea play a role in the build, with the blend of traditional Maori design meeting modern, this building links into Forum North’s long standing history here in Whangarei and provides a place for them to continue the amazing work they do with the children of Whangarei,” says Jennian Homes Northland sales consultant Rena Belcher, Sales consultant.
The aim of the design of the two storey building has also been to be inclusive so everyone could access the building and use the facilities on offer.
A lift has been included and small details, such as no lips on the floor at doorways, means it is fully wheelchair accessible.
The centre’s teachers, one of whom has a child with cerebral palsy, were an integral part of the design process.
The building has two apexes and will be clad in board and baton. It’s a simple yet effective design that reflects the down to earth approach the centre takes.
Upstairs will be a large multipurpose space with staff rooms and kitchen. Downstairs the centre likewise offers flexibility with a moveable divider separating the age groups.
Deanna says it is important to them that siblings and relations are not segregated despite possibly being different ages.
There are also opportunities for children to create their own spaces by building huts or hanging sheets for hideaways etc.
Outside, the playground will include natural materials and objects rather than manmade play items. The aim has been to reflect the natural surroundings.
Jody Yakas, general manager of Jennian Homes Northland says that the Forum North childcare project is a large and complex project for the company to undertake. It will take place over nearly a year with multiple stages.
The project has been funded by the Ministry of Education TAP funding scheme alongside community grants and fundraising. The centre is community owned and run by a governance team made up of parents.
As a not for profit enterprise the aim is to keep fees as low as possible.
Staff to child ratios are impressive with eight teachers catering to the needs of the current children plus one staff member in administration and another in the kitchen.
The centre also supplies items such as meals and nappies.
“We understand that it’s hard for parents to get up and get sorted in the morning and get to work so we make it as easy as possible.”
It’s not surprising then that there is a constant waiting list for places.
The new centre, which is licensed for 50 children, is due to open in March 2018.
“Our experience tells us there isn’t a one size fits all approach to education,” says Deanna.
“It’s about diversity, it’s about identity and it’s about vision.
“We know we have a unique learning environment that we believe our community needs and wants. I truly believe we were sent the right people to build our vision.
“Our staff are very committed to the centre – it’s like a second home to them – and now it will be sustainable for future generations so the legacy can continue.”