Sunday, 20 October 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Coromandel Outdoor Language Centre to close - but all not lost

On Saturday last week, more than 50 people joined Coromandel Outdoor Language Centre (COLC) owners, Kim and Robyn Lawry, for a BBQ to celebrate the many years the well-known Whitianga language school was in operation. The school was established by a previous owner in approximately 1993.

The premises where the school is operating from in Robinson Road is for sale and as Kim and Robyn were unable to secure a suitable alternative location, they made the decision to close the school. The school’s current premises will be vacated by the end of this month. Winter has always been a slower time of the year and with only a few students enrolled for courses at the moment, the school will continue to operate from Kim and Robyn’s house in Whitianga until the end of June.

All isn’t lost, however. A group of professional Whitianga residents have recognised the value of COLC as a prominent service exporter in the Mercury Bay area and are looking at ways the school can reopen from temporary premises in October, possibly as a community-owned facility.

Kim and Robyn were dairy farmers in the Waikato and moved to Whitianga in 2003 in pursuit of a less demanding lifestyle. They were used to hosting foreign students and when Kim saw that COLC was looking for a part-time activities teacher, he successfully applied for the job.

In 2010, several years after Kim has joined COLC, he and Robyn purchased the school. “Moving from a part-time activities teacher to full-time language school owner was a big learning curve,” says Kim. “But with hard work and a fantastic group of qualified and dedicated English teachers from both New Zealand and overseas, COLC developed into something Robyn and I are truly proud of.

“We’re extremely thankful to everyone who has assisted us over the last 10 years or so. Whitianga is a very supportive community, especially with regard to homestay families offering our students welcoming accommodation.

“Students from all ages and walks of life have attended COLC over the last decade. Medical specialists were often among those who were keen to improve their English at COLC “We’re just like one big family here,” says Kim. “I remember a student from Switzerland a while back - a real farming, outdoorsy type of guy - on his last day with us he started crying and said he was so thankful to us because he felt like he had a proper family for the first time in his life.

“We also had a shy young lady from Europe a few years ago, who really struggled with her self-esteem. During her time with us her confidence grew hugely, which was so pleasing to see. She’s now travelling all around the world and we regularly receive updates on her exciting adventures.

“Many of our former students stay in touch with us and it’s nice knowing that if Robyn and I ever want to go travelling, there are many cities and towns in the world we’ll have a bed to sleep in.”

Kim has always had a passion for nature, which is reflected in COLC’s involvement in several environmental projects. A key project is a nursery at Kim and Robyn’s home where a number of native plants, including dune grasses and kauri trees, are being grown. To date, more than 7,000 plants have been donated by the school to a variety of causes, among them the restoration of the Taputapatea Spit in Whitianga and replanting of the Comers Road Peninsula south of Whitianga after a devastating fire in early 2017.

The school also runs a trap line outside Kuaotunu for Project Kiwi and maintain the Department of Conservation’s Waitaia track on the Kuaotunu Hill. A recent project COLC was involved in was the restoration of the “stone kiwi” on the hills above Wharekaho/Simpson’s Beach.

“The environmental work we do is of major interest to the students who choose to come to us, rather than going to a language school in a big city in another country,” says Kim. “I would like to see the work continue and will keep on doing as much as I can. I will, of course, always hope that the school will reopen at some point in the future and take the environmental projects forward.

“We’ve been on an amazing journey since purchasing COLC,” says Kim. “It was a pleasure and a privilege to own the school and it would be great to see the school continue for a long time into the future.”

Pictured:  Kim and Robyn Lawry, the owners of Coromandel Outdoor Language Centre in Whitianga.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.