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Indoor Centre Rally

The 'doof' 'doof' sound that emanates when someone is constantly bouncing a basketball can sound strangely melodic or it can drive you insane! And when dozens of tamariki are bouncing basketballs en masse as they weave their way around obstacle courses every Saturday morning as part of Gisborne Basketball Association's Rising Stars programme, you'd assume the cacophony of noise would see blood pressure levels go through the roof for those observing. Strangely that's not the case. Instead, those watching are captivated by the sight of all of those young people having great fun, connecting with one another, and developing lifelong skills.

The Rising Stars programme is just one of the dozens of activities that will benefit from an indoor centre here in Tairāwhiti. This Thursday 15 February, a rally is being held at the YMCA from 5:30pm. The purpose of the rally is to display the breadth of community support for the building of such a facility. Why a rally now? Well for over 30 years (perhaps longer), attempts have been made by various community champions to do just that - build an indoor centre that consists of a few indoor courts and amenities that can be used for multiple purposes. Ultimately, through no fault of those driving the kaupapa, these attempts have all failed. It's time to say loudly as a community that we can no longer wait!

When I think of civic facilities that every large town or city should have, I think of a library, swimming pool, museum/gallery, theatre and indoor centre. That's the perfect combination! Safe spaces where people can come together, have fun, feel a sense of community, build social cohesion, be inspired and boost their well-being. Our region has done well on the theatre front in recent years, the library was redeveloped, and the newly opened Kiwa pools are a sight to behold and a place to be proud of. Yet an indoor centre still eludes us.

We know that as a region we struggle economically and money is hard to come by. Yet small communities such as Wairoa and Te Kuiti, with less than a quarter of our population, have managed to build great indoor facilities that are highly utilised. There are further examples all over the country.

We have one publicly-accessible indoor court run by the YMCA. This is the worst ratio in the country. The YMCA has done an awesome job ensuring their court can be hired by so many community groups, but if it wasn't also for schools hiring out their spaces, many of our sporting leagues would have fallen over ages ago. Schools can have trouble maintaining their sites though, there can be difficulties with access, and most of their facilities aren't fully specced for the sports that use them.

Following the cyclone our region has some massive critical infrastructure challenges. The members of the Tairāwhiti Indoor Centre Advocacy Group who are organising the rally understand that. The scale of investment and support required for roading, flood protection schemes, township and marae relocation planning can feel overwhelming. However, we can't keep putting the wellbeing of our communities into the 'nice-to-have' category. We saw after Covid lockdowns and the cyclone just how important it was for so many people in our community to re-connect through doing the activities that they love. It was absolute necessary. So somehow, we need to find a way to prioritise the development of an indoor centre alongside those critical infrastructure needs, and push for them both to receive support from Central and Local Government, national philanthropists, and regional funders.

Not having an indoor centre is already hurting our community. Sporting and recreation leagues have had to turn away teams, growth has been curtailed, and new opportunities can't be explored. Having kids from Te Waiu school in Ruatorea being turned away from basketball last year when they were willing to travel two-hours one way in order to play, is a heart- breaking example of that. All this as indoor sport participation is booming across the rest of the country! Volleyball, basketball, indoor football/futsal, pickleball - to name but a few. An indoor centre would also allow greater opportunities for kapa haka, dance, ethnic festivals, youth and senior citizen programmes etc. 

If we had an indoor centre, it would create an opportunity for conferences and tournaments to be held, which are much-used ways of injecting a much-needed financial boost into regional economies via accommodation and hospitality spending by visitors. We also know there are many whānau who struggle to support their tamariki and rangatahi to travel out of the region for tournaments. How nice would it be to alleviate some of that financial hardship by hosting inter-regional tournaments here in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa for a change?

At the moment, the Gisborne District Council is overseeing a feasibility study into the development of an indoor centre, in conjunction with partners such as Sport Gisborne Tairāwhiti and Sport NZ. That will help determine the need for such a centre, how it could be configured and where it should be located. I have deliberately avoided talking about the possible site locations, as often we can get hung up on that, but as a community we've reached the stage where we can make the indoor centre a success regardless of whether it's at Waikirikiri Park, the old Olympic Pool site or somewhere else. And it needs to be acknowledged that the relationship and input from mana whenua will be critical in that.

We know the cost is likely to be $20 million plus to build, which is why we need to target funders far and wide for support. At the rally we'll have film crews and media capturing the crowds and speeches from various community groups that would benefit from an indoor centre. We need to send a powerful message to those we need support from.

So if you feel passionate about the cause, please come on down and join us at the YMCA this Thursday from 5.30pm. It's going to be informative and fun, and you won't have to worry about the weather conditions outside - just another benefit of an indoor centre for our region!

Story by Stefan Pishief

Images supplied


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