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Lower Hutt Community Centres: Final Statement (1950)

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Chapter 5
The Community Center Scheme
The Community Centre Committee of the Hutt Valley Community Planning Council

Set-up of the Community Centre Committee" plans prepared for (a) buildings and outdoor facilities, (b) finance, (c) organisation and administration; agreement with Lower Hutt City Council; request to Government for formal setting-up of a provisional community centre planning board; compliance by Government.
In The three-fold planning project undertaken by the Hutt Valley Community Planning Council? the community centre scheme alone made substantial progress.
The Community Centre Committee, set up at the Council's second meeting on 12th April 1946, included representatives of the Naenae Progressive Association, the Epuni Residents Association, the Taita Residents Association, and the Northern Hutt Progressive Association. Co-opted State Department representatives were: Mr L. W. Woods (internal Affairs Department), Mr E. A. Plishke (Housing Construction Department), Mr A. B. Thomson (Education Department), and Mr W. Hay(State Advances Corporation). Councillor E. P. Hay and Councillor F. Lonsdale represented the Lower Hutt City Councilo. The National Council of Churches and the Lower Hutt Ratepayers Association were also represented. Mr R. S. V. Simpson (President of the Naenae Progressive Association) was Chairman and Mr Anton Vogt the original Hon. Secretary. When, in November 1946, Mr Vogt withdrew, I became Hon. Secretary. I was also, of course, at all times an "ex officio" member of the Committee.
The Community Centre Committee held ten meetings (with numerous sub-committee meetings) from May 1946 to June 1947 when, as we shall see, it was succeeded by the Lower Hutt Provisional Community Centre Committee. It set itself the task of preparing draft plans for the development of "all-purpose" community centres - for social, recreational, educational, and cultural activities - for the three State Housing settlements of Epuni, Naenae, and Taita.
The planning programme of the Committee fell naturally under
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three heads -
(a)
Buildings and outdoor facilities,
(b)
Finance,
(c)
Organisation and Administration.
In each of these fields the Committee did important pioneering work.

Buildings and Outdoor Facilities

With the invaluable collaboration of Mr Plishke and the Housing Construction Department, and to the accompaniment of much discussion and seeking of advice and information, draft layout plans were prepared for a main community centre building in Naenae's 12-acre "neighbourhood centre". Included were a theatre, a hall-gymnasium, a minor gymnasium, a cafeteria, a tavern, and numerous lecture rooms, clubrooms, hobby rooms, etc. A rough estimate of the cost of the building was £130,000. A start was made also with provisional plans for community centre buildings for Epuni and Taita, but in the limited time available not as much progress was made as with Naenae.
In the grounds surrounding the Naenae building it was proposed to have a swimming pool and a roller skating rink. The grounds themselves were to be attractively landscaped.
In the field of recreation, the Committee concerned itself with both indoor and outdoor facilities. Outdoors, it was thought important as part of the community centre development to make provision for minor games, such as tennis, croquet, and bowls. Adequate space for those and other minor games had not been allowed for by the town-planners, so the Committee asked the Housing Construction Department to increase the size of the Naenae "neighbourhood centre" by adding to it an adjacent six-acre section that had originally been intended for housing. The Department saw the force of the Committee's arguments and were happy to comply.
The Committee estimated that the total cost of the three buildings contemplated together with outdoor facilities would be about £300,000.
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Finance

It was realised from the outset that finance would be a key factor in the successful development and maintenance of the Lower Hutt community centres. Large capital sums would be required for the buildings, and an assured and adequate annual income needed for keeping the centres running properly. After a thorough examination of all the alternatives, the Committee decided to recommend that the Government be asked to contribute one-half of the initial capital costs of the buildings, etc. as a subsidy, and that the remaining half be raised as a loan by the Lower Hutt City Council.
To meet annual costs, the Committee proposed that a special rate or annual fee should be levied by the Lower Hutt City Council over the communities concerned, of an amount equivalent to not more than one shilling a week, and that in the case of State houses (which were in the great majority in the area) the amount of the rate or foe be collected by the State Advances Corporation as an increment on the house rentals. The proceeds from this source, it was calculated, would cover not only interest and sinking charges on the capital loan but would leave a substantial sum to help with maintenance costs. In addition, the letting of halls, together with profits from the cafeteria and other catering services, would bring in considerable further revenue. (There was reason to believe, too, that the Hutt Valley Consumers' Co-operative Society would contribute to the community centres from its annual surpluses. )
It is interesting to note that the proposal to base a capital loan and a proportion of maintenance costs upon a special rate over properties in the community centre areas was made in the first instance by Mr Plishke, of the Housing Construction Department, who informed the Committee that he had made a similar proposal (but with a limit of sixpence a week) to the organisers of a community centre movement in Walkari, Dunedin. At first, Mr Plishke's suggestion seemed to some of the Committee to be very radical indeed and extremely impracticable. It was thought that the State Advances Corporation would not like the extra work involved for them, and it was objected that neither the Government nor the people of the areas themselves would over accept such a proposal. However,
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all objections were successfully met, and finally the whole Committee, including the Departmental representatives, were unanimous in supporting this special rating scheme.
The development of this businesslike solution to the problem of community centre finance was one of the Committee's most outstanding achievements.

Organisation and Administration

A large undertaking such as was being planned - three "all-purpose" community centres with outdoor facilities - would require a properly constituted board to take control of property, finance, and broad policy matters. This board, the Committee considered, should have statutory authority and should consist of the Mayor of Lower Hutt as Chairman, two City Councillors, one person appointed by the Minister of Internal Affairs, one person appointed by the Hutt Valley Consumers' Co-operative Society (so long as that Society contributed not less than £500 per annum to the board), and one person appointed from each of the three community centre areas.
Subordinate to the Board, it was proposed that a Central Management Committee should be responsible for staffing, co-ordination of activities, and detailed finance, and three Area. Committees (Epuni, Naenae, and Taita) for local activities and the detailed day-to-day operation of the local centres. These Area Committees would consist of representatives of the various organised groups using the centres and would appoint the area members on the Board.
The Committee assumed that, in accordance with past practice, the Education Department would provide without charge the services of a qualified Community Centre Director. It was thought possible, too, that a Physical Director might be similarly supplied by the Internal Affairs Department through its Physical Welfare and Recreation Branch.
The various proposals on finance and on organisation and administration were incorporated in a formal report and in a Draft Act.
The preparation of the Draft Act and the formulation of the organisation and administration proposals wore mainly the work of Mr L. W. Woods, representing the Internal Affairs Department. To
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him, and to Mr E. A. Plishke for his outstanding contributions in the architectural field, the Committee were greatly indebted.

Assistance from the Advisory Committee for Adult Education

Towards the end of 1946 I stressed to the Community Centre Committee its need for further professional assistance, for secretarial and other duties. It was decided to discuss this need with the Advisory Committee for Adult Education of Victoria University College, which was known to be interested in and sympathetic to the idea of community centres. The outcome of the discussions was a decision by the Advisory Committee to appoint an adult education tutor-organiser for the Hutt Valley and to authorise him to spend at least half his time (in the early stages at least) assisting with the development of the Lower Hutt community centre scheme.
The new post was advertised in the New Year and Mr A. G. Long, of Dargaville, was the successful applicant. Mr Long arrived in May, 1947, just as the Community Centre Committee was being succeeded by the Lower Hutt Provisional Community Centre Committee, described in the next chapter.

Agreement with the Lower Hutt City Council

By March, 1947, the Community Centre Committee had in its opinion made as much progress as was practicable within its limited constitution. Also, the Lower Hutt City Council representatives - Councillor Hay and Councillor Lonsdale - felt that the time had come for a conference between the Committee and the Council for the purpose of considering any major differences of opinion there might be and endeavouring to reach agreement in principle on the community centre proposals. Accordingly a meeting between the two bodies was arranged, in the course of which City Councillors suggested a number of amendments to those proposals, all of which were found acceptable by the Committee. On 6th May 1947 I forwarded to the Lower Hutt Town Clerk a draft framework for a community centre scheme which incorporated the Council's suggested amendments and which the City Council was invited to examine and, it was hoped, approve. Such approval was unanimously given at the Council's next meeting.
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The draft framework as agreed upon was as follows:
1.
The erecting of community centres at Naenae, Taita and Epuni.
2.
The placing of such centres under the control of a statutory board comprising the Mayor of Lower Hutt (Chairman), two City Councillors, one Government officer, three area members and a representative of the Hutt Valley Consumers' Co-operative Society for so long as the Society continues to make substantial contributions to the community centres.
3.
The financing or part financing of the scheme as set forth by loan backed by a rate over a special rating area, contingent on the State agreeing to accept responsibility for the portion of the rate due from the houses owned by the State.
4.
The introduction of legislation to give effect to the above.
5.
The sports grounds in the area to be provided by your Council as also the garden surrounds for the centres.
6.
Provision to be made for the library to be housed in the community centre but to be operated by your Council as part of the Lower Hutt Public Library.
7.
The setting up by the Government, in the meantime, of a Provisional Board constituted as above to revise and recast the scheme and to finalise details acceptable to the Government, your Council, and the residents.

Request to Government for a Provisional Board

I draw the reader's attention to item 7 above, providing for the setting up by the Government of a Provisional Board to take over from the Community Centre Committee of the Planning Council. On 26th May 1947 a letter was sent from the Hutt Valley Community Planning Council, signed by R. S. V. Simpson, Chairman, to the Hon. C. P. Skinner, Patron of the Council. The letter read:
Dear Mr Skinner,
As Patron of the Hutt Valley Community Planning Council you are aware that the Council was charged with the responsibility of drafting a scheme for community services in the State Housing areas of the Hutt Valley and it was directed to achieve agreement as far as possible with the Lower Hutt City Council before placing any scheme before the Government.
I am very pleased, to inform you that unanimous agreement has now been reached between the City Council and the Planning Council on a scheme, a preliminary outline of which is attached.
It is realised that the scheme is as yet only an outline, but details cannot be finalised until some preliminary decision is made by the Government. The City Council and the Planning Council have agreed to the following points:-
(There then followed points 1 to 7 as above.)
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My Council now respectfully requests you as its Patron to take up with the Government the following points:-
(a)
General approval by the Government to the outlined scheme without committing the Government to any of the details as at present stated.
(b)
The setting up by the Government of a provisional board as outlined in (7) above to bring down a detailed scheme.
(c)
Cabinet authority to the State Departments concerned in the scheme to co-operate with and assist the Provisional Board to finalise details, such authority to include the preparation of plans by the Housing Construction Department.
If the Government is prepared to give approval to this extent, the Provisional Board will be able to proceed with the following steps:-
(a)
Draft of legislation required and administrative set-up.
(b)
Detailed plans with actual construction costs.
(c)
Financial proposals based on actual costs.
These details can then be submitted to the Government for final approval, and in the meantime the Board may be able to organise a nucleus of activities round which to develop the centres.
In presenting this proposal to you, I would like to take the opportunity on behalf of the Planning Council of expressing appreciation of the interest, encouragement and assistance you have already afforded the Council, and of the valuable service willingly rendered by the various officers of the Government seconded to advise and assist the Planning Council.
Yours sincerely,
(signed)R. S. V. Simpson
Chairman,
Hutt Valley Community Planning Council

Acceptance by Government of "Provisional Board" Proijosal

Mr Skinner replied to this letter on 5th June 1947 as follows:-
Mr R. S. V. Simpson,
Chairman,
Hutt Valley Community Planning Council.
Dear Sir,
I have received your letter of May 26th with reference to the community centre scheme proposed by your Council.
I am very pleased to inform you that the Government has now approved:-
(a)
That a provisional community centre committee be set up to place before Government a detailed scheme including legislation required, plans, costs, and suggested
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methods of finance; such committee to comprise the Mayor of Lower Hutt (Chairman), two councillors nominated by the Lower Hutt City Council, three representatives of the several areas as outlined in the scheme, a representative of the Hutt Valley Consumers' Co-operative Society Ltd., and a Government officer to maintain liaison and advice.
(b)
That the several State Departments involved be authorised to co-operate with and assist the provisional committee in preparing its report and that any plans may be prepared by the Director of Housing Construction.
I am conveying this information to the chairman of the provisional committee (the Mayor of Lower Hutt) with a suggestion that he now convene a meeting of the committee at an early date.
Your Council has completed a very worthwhile task in bringing this proposal to its present stage and I would be glad if you would convey to all those who have assisted my congratulations on what has been achieved. I may say that I now look forward to the presentation by the provisional committee of a final report and plan.
The names and addresses of the three area members of the committee should be forwarded to the Mayor of Lower Hutt at earliest opportunity.
Yours faithfully,
(signed)C. F. Skinner
Minister of Rehabilitation
On the same day, 5th June 1947, Mr Skinner wrote to the Mayor of Lower Hutt, Mr E. P. Hay, conveying to him the Government's decisions as set out in the reply to the Planning Council. Included in the letter was the following sentence:-
"I shall look forward to receiving in due course the provisional committee's report and plans and, after consultation with the Minister of Internal Affairs, shall arrange for them to receive consideration by the Government."

Area Community Centre Committees

It will have been noted that a recommendation of the Community Centre Committee, under the heading of Organisation and Administration, provided for the setting up in the three areas of Epuni, Naenae, and Taita of local community centre committees consisting of representatives of the various local organisations using the centres. Both Naenae and Taita decided that they would set up their area committees at once, so that these committees could
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assist with the planning work by representing the local point of view. Thus a Naenae Community Centre Committee and a Taita Community Centre Committee were already in existence by the time of the Government's decision to set up a provisional committee as described above. In the case of Epuni, the local committee was not constituted until somewhat later.

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