Newsletter No. 160

June 27, 2018

Welcome to part two of our three-part look at the Houghton Valley Progressive Association in the lead up to their AGM on July 8 (4pm in the hall). Our school principal, Luana Carroll, will be the guest speaker at the AGM.  This is a chance to welcome her and hear how the school values their relationship with its community. As well we will discuss the future of the Association.

In this newsletter we look at the HVPA’s greatest asset: the community hall.

However firstly, a word of explanation as to the origin of the content of these newsletters. It has been put together by a group of locals concerned about the future of the HVPA. The viewpoints and suggestions expressed are theirs and not of the organisation per se. Some of the viewpoints are provocative, to stimulate discussion. For if we lose our organisation through community indifference we also lose our community hall. Maybe it is worth sticking our necks out to create a reaction if it helps to keep them both going. We fully realise that the views may not be yours. If you want your views or suggestions to be heard then come along to the discussion. That is what community is about!

These are the questions we have been asking about the community hall:

  • Do we still want our community hall with the problems of use and maintenance that ownership entails?
  • Will the hall ever be the main focus of our community again, and is this important for our community?
  • Should we treasure our hall and pass it on to the next generation?
  • The hall is currently underutilised, how could we use it more?

Multi-storey apartments mooted for Houghton Valley

The Houghton Valley Progressive Association is struggling to look after their dilapidated hall, and are considering selling it. A developer has expressed an interest in buying the land and wants to build a multi-storey apartment block on the land. The upper apartments would take full advantage of the spectacular views.

“We can do our bit towards solving the housing crisis” says a HVPA spokesperson.

This is only a scenario and not a reality, but it is a fact that members of the Houghton Valley Progressive Association once believed ‘they’ had no choice but to demolish the hall, sell the section and maybe use the proceeds to buy play equipment or a similar gift for the valley. In 1997 they got to the point of inviting real estate agents in to advise on the sale of the land. However, a resident and relative of the original donors of the land, pointed out to the meeting in no uncertain terms:

“You can’t sell the community hall, because it belongs to everyone!”

 As far we we know, our community is the only one in Wellington to own both their hall and the land; others are owned by the Council and/or sit on Council land.

History of the community hall

In 1929 a local family donated a piece of land to the HVPA, and the association raised 100 pounds towards materials and used voluntary labour to build a hall. The design had to be shortened as excavation of the rocky soil was so difficult. It was opened on 10 August 1929, and was named the Haughton Valley Hall. A lower terrace of the land was developed into tennis courts.

The use of the hall was intended to be for community meetings and club rooms, but early on it was rented to the education department for use as the valley’s first school.

The hall was the hub of Houghton Valley community throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s and WWII. The HVPA ran it to full capacity with regular dances, sporting activities, civics classes for children, League of Mothers meetings, and card and quiz evenings.

However community use of the hall declined in the 1950s with the advent of the car, cheap petrol, and television. Indeed those who lived through this period describe community life in terms of “before the car” and “after the car”.

The hall’s dominant use from 1942 was as a Playcentre but this ceased in 1997 when the Ministry of Health decreed the lead paint on the outside walls made the building unsafe for children. So the HVPA leased old the tennis court land to the Playcentre Movement, and the current playcentre was constructed that year.

Another important community use of the hall in this period was as a Civil Defence Centre. Up to 50 local residents met there regularly till the early 1990s to train in triage, social welfare, communication and other systems so that the community could be more resilient in the event of an emergency.

Other activities included Cubs, Scouts, Brownies, the Townswomens’ Guild, the Tennis Club. The hall has always been a place of dance and music, more recently taking the form of dance studios.

By the 1980s there was serious concern about declining use of the hall and by the 1990s it also needed a lot of work. When the playcentre lease and the sale idea fell to the ground a few local residents stepped up and volunteered considerable time and even materials to repair rotten walls, replace the roof and strip and paint most of the building to avoid demolition. The hall has since been repiled and the floor strengthened to enable vigorous activities such as dancing.

This generation of Houghton Valley residents inherits a community hall in a far better state than twenty years ago.

For the next 12-15 years, the HVPA successfully maintained a regime of ensuring the maintenance costs were covered by allowing small businesses to use the premises. It was mostly used as a dance studio and still is today. One local took on most of the maintenance during this time.

In 2012, there was a change in management, and a renewed commitment to make the hall once more a community resource and the hub of community activity. Lectures and public meetings, Neighbour’s Day celebrations, banner painting, Koha Coffee mornings and a kitchen upgrade was the result of the revival. However keeping this momentum has proved difficult, because the hall had become virtually invisible over the years it was let out, and the focus of the community has shifted to the school.

We are on the cusp of change

A lot of the discussion from the hall’s history is very similar to our concerns today, in particular the balance between use and income to ensure maintenance, but also how the use of the hall reflects the ebb and flow of community involvement generally.

The community use of the hall is currently at an ebb again. These days people lead incredibly busy lives whether they wish to or not. The popularity of the school has meant the arrival of more younger households into the area, and family life is generally all-encompassing.

However, over the years there have been several occasions of crisis, and each time a few individuals have come forward and either revived or downright rescued the hall. Long may the cycle continue!

Koha Coffee Saturday June 30

Not a complete ebb though … this Saturday June 30 Koha Coffee will be held in the community hall from 10.30 til about 12.30. If you haven’t been to the hall, or not for a long time, come and experience its old fashioned charm for yourself; have coffee, eat goodies, play table tennis or the piano, dance in front of the mirrors, browse the lending library, and meet and chat to other locals. And if you have been recently, come and catch up again.

Envisioning the future of our hall

So what happens now? That’s the question the last quarterly HVPA meeting asked, and is looking to the community for their ideas. Do we keep the hall partially rented and partially used by the community, leaving the the responsibility of looking after it to a few volunteers? Or do we lease the hall fully to someone and use the total rent to keep it in good shape? Is there anything else that could be done? A timeline is also required as we need to appreciate our current users.

Thinking outside the square

The Common Unity Project has set up a Remakery in Epuni to rebuild and upcycle unwanted stuff including old bicycles and remnant fabrics. The operation also promotes urban food growing and bee keeping, has a local food shop and a local food catering service. School children grow sunflowers for bees and sell their seeds around the country.

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