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Peter and the Village Hub

“The Hub - Compass Village got me thinking about what could be possible in Whitianga…”

Peter Van der Putten helped set up the Whitianga Community Services Trust inspired by a similar Social Services resource hub in Tauranga.

Peter Van der Putten is the Trust Secretary of the Whitianga Community Services Trust. He helped set up the Trust although its work had begun several years years earlier as the Whitianga Resource Centre.

When Peter arrived in New Zealand, he was employed in the area of production management and worked for a lot of big companies. But after a few years, he decided he needed to change direction. “My talents were better served if I was on my own,” says Peter. “A restaurant was in my sights.” There was a lease on a restaurant in Albert Street, Whitianga and Peter purchased that lease and he and his wife became the owners of a kiwi restaurant. “This was a new venture for us. We changed the restaurant to a bar and grill and called it PJ’s. We renovated it and made it a music and gathering space for young people. This was in 1992. We formed a music club and had jam sessions with live instruments mainly on a Sunday. Karaoke was so popular. Those young ones are all older now and they still Iike karaoke,” Peter smiles.

It was all going very well, but then Peter’s Dad passed away in Holland and he took a one way flight back to his home country. After finishing his responsibilities, Peter could not get a flight back. It took months and the turnover at PJ’s went down. “We tried other things. We even ran the Mercury Bay Club for two years and did outside catering at the same time. In the end, we had to sell our PJ’s venture. That was 1996. That is the background as to why I came to be in Whitianga.”

During the time at PJ’s, getting to know the young people, Peter had decided to help out in the community and get to know it more. He became Chairperson of the Business Association and back then, the Business Association was part of the Information Centre and it actually ran and staffed the Information Centre. He became Secretary of the Centre and when the Council closed the Information Centres, the charitable trust that the Business Association had, kept things going. However, Peter is quick to point out that Council did all the renovations to what is the current Information Centre (now iSite) building.

“I had come to learn a lot about the town and enjoyed being a part of helping the town grow. I felt I needed to support what was then called the Whitianga Resource Centre and so offered to become a committee member. It was an Incorporated Society then. Two years later, I became the Chairperson. I was doing the funding applications for them and in 2001, or a little prior to that, I went to a three day conference in Rotorua where a lot of agencies were present. I learned that Tauranga Council had a lot of old buildings which they had brought together on one site and that this had become a combined ‘Hub’ for all the social services. It was called Compass Village. This got me thinking about what could be possible in Whitianga and I met the guy that ran it.

I spoke to him about forming a Trust as at that time the Government was favouring trusts for funding rather than an Incorporated Society. He said he could assist us and he did.”

Peter brought the idea of the Hub back from the conference but felt he needed to form the Trust first.

“We had a meeting with the community and it received positive support and in August 2001, we had the inaugural meeting of the Trust. These people - Brenda Duncan, Doug Oliver, Peter Wyatt, Bruce Mackereth, Frank O’Toole, Mara Clark and me - were the first Trustees of the new Trust.”

The services of the Trust were growing and they were working in a very small building. Peter tells of how they spoke to the Council about finding some better premises and Joan Gaskell suggested that the Resource Centre use the old hospital on Buffalo Beach Road. Soon after, they took out a lease. But under the Treaty Settlement, there was an article in the lease which meant that if there was a new owner, the Trust would have to vacate it within six months. So that clause decided for Peter that one day soon, they would need a building of their own. This wasn’t to come for a few years. The Trust renovated the old hospital quite a lot before they moved in, but all the time Peter was looking for a site of their own.

The old offices of Thames Coromandel District Council came up for tender as the Council was moving into the current Monk Street premises. Those old offices were where the Skate Park is now.

Peter spoke to the Council about the fact that they could purchase the building, but they would need to put them somewhere. There were three sites available. “We were most favourable to the site of 2 Cook Street, says Peter. “It used to be an orchard that the school ran, so being close to the school was an advantage for our work. Also, it was a larger site and not too far away from town.” But there was more to do. “Of course, the TCDC buildings were not sufficient for us to accommodate all our services even then.” Says Peter. “We applied to Trust Waikato and Lotteries and they funded the current building to just over a million dollars in grants.”

So the site and the suite of buildings, forming a Hub, became a reality. The Social Services Community Trust moved from the old hospital site to 2 Cook Street in 2010. The Trust owns the building and the land is on lease from TCDC. This was nine years after Peter attended the conference in Tauranga, where he first heard about Compass Village.

A lot of the time over those years, Peter was a volunteer. It was only when he became Chairperson that he was paid for the funding applications. There were other expenses to find funding for - building consents and developing the services Peter and the Trustees knew were needed. “We are really very fortunate to have this in the community. In some towns, services are not in the same building. They are separated. This is the best situation and with changes in policy and in community needs, we can be flexible and there is less red tape to deal with. I believe I have a heart for this work,” says Peter. He could see what was working in other areas and it was the right time to do it in Whitianga. He didn’t seek this path, but along the way, made a conscious decision to put something good together for the community.

The Whitianga Resource Centre will have its 40th Birthday this coming March, 2023. Peter says that is a story on its own.

“I feel, for me, the current building has been my biggest achievement; not because of the building, but because of what it has made possible and easier for people in the wider community. It is a community house. I am here three days a week,” says Peter. “It’s what I love to do. If we did not have the support of the community, we would not have got to where we are now.”

Peter is a great, great grandfather, has been an avid sailor and became a resident of New Zealand in 1968.

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