Community service hub now 25 years old

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Rangitata MP Jo Goodhew officially opened Community House Mid Canterbury in April 2015. She was accompanied by the trust board chairman John Driscoll and then Ashburton mayor Angus McKay. Below: Community House as it is today.

It started small, and has been through its ups and downs, but an Ashburton hub for community services is going strong after 25 years.

Community House Mid Canterbury, once known as the Ashburton Resource Centre, is home to 25 not-for-profit groups, including umbrella organisation Safer Mid Canterbury which operates around 30 different services. Another 20 regular casual user groups also share the building with the long-term tenants.

Last year 25,000 visitors stepped through the doors of the Cass Street building.

Community House Mid Canterbury Trust board chair Leandra Fitzgibbon said those visitor numbers showed the value and demand for the resource in the community.

The key objective of Community House was to be a hub for social services in Mid Canterbury by providing low cost quality accommodation, networking and shared services for not-for-profit organisations.

Community House was a significant asset for the community and the trust managing it had been restructured in recent years to ensure that it was managed well for the benefit of the community, and also to ensure that the trust was sustainable going forward.

Community House Mid Canterbury manager John Driscoll, who has a 15-year association with the facility, said throughout its history there had been consistent support for the not-for-profit groups.

Getting to where Community House was today had been challenging, frustrating at times, inspiring, and unforgettable.

“The over-riding thing that has come out of our 25-year history is the awareness of the incredible community we are a part of,” he said.

Without that wide-ranging community support the facility would not have been able to provide the space for tenants to support the services they provide.

The idea of a resource centre in Ashburton was born after local May Greenslade attended a co-ordinators training day in Auckland in May 1992.

She shared the idea of a central resource centre with various local groups and individuals on her return.

The resource centre was seen as a one-stop shop to access information, services and centralised administration, and for people to come to offer help as well as to request it.

A feasibility study later completed by Rod Beavan revealed that Mid Canterbury had a volunteer pool of 4197 people, around 100 health and welfare groups, 75 craft and cultural groups and over 200 sports clubs, all of whom could potentially benefit from the proposed centre.

A lease to occupy agreement was signed on a building at 155 Tancred Street in November 1994 and soon after the Ashburton Resource Centre Charitable Trust was set up.

The new resource centre was officially opened by Jenny Shipley MP on July 14, 1995.

The original tenants were Barnadoes, a women’s division of Federated Farmers, the Hearing Association and Ashburton Council of Social Services.

The centre expanded in 1998 and further demand led to the appointment of a full-time manager four years later.

A fire in the building in March 2003 caused damage and disrupted operations, but tenants rallied together to manage temporary space issues.

At the end of 2003 the centre was in trouble financially, with rent arrears threatening to close the centre.

Ashburton District Council stepped in in 2006 and purchased the building and allocated funds to cover rent costs for the next 10 years.

In November 2010 the centre was renamed Community House Mid Canterbury and upgrades were carried out the following year.

In May 2012 an earthquake assessment deemed the building a health and safety risk and tenants were given 48 hours to vacate indefinitely. A much smaller space was found nearby for some tenants.

After the shooting tragedy at Winz Ashburton’s Cass Street building in September 2014 that building was later identified as a potential new site for Community House.

A grant of $500,000 from the Ashburton District Council and other funding enabled the purchase and refit of the building. It was officially opened by Jo Goodhew MP on April 15, 2015.

An invitation-only afternoon event celebrating 25 years of the community service hub will be held later this month.

-By Mick Jensen