The Wellington City Mission is embarking on one of its biggest initiatives since the organisation began almost 120 years ago.
After discovering a near-derelict building in Mount Cook four years ago, City Missioner Murray Edridge (pictured) had the vision for Whakamaru – a new 24/7 residential and community services hub.
As a born and bred Wellingtonian, Mr Edridge says he has always admired the work of the City Mission, which began in 1904 out of St Peter’s Church on Willis Street.
“There was a vision for housing in the city in 1906, and whilst many things have changed, the same core challenges still exist today. We operate from an old building in Newtown next to our social supermarket and we also have an old building on Donald McLean street, but we need to adapt to make sure how we can be more responsive and accessible to our community,” he says.
As Mr Edridge, his Mission Leadership Team, and the board were discussing how they could come up with alternative accommodation, he stumbled across a largely abandoned building on Oxford Terrace.
“I happened to find this building back in January 2019. We had a vision that we could renovate it and move in, and then our vision got a bit bigger! After lots of study, research and thought, we developed this idea for a residential and community services hub.”
This developed into Whakamaru, a name gifted by Mana Whenua, which means to shelter, safeguard, and protect.
The building costs come from fundraising and donations, and support from organisations like Wellington City Council. The Council contributed a donation of $500,000 to the development.
Whakamaru is set to open next year, and will have 35 residential apartments made up of 30 studio units and five two-bedroom units.
Outside of accommodation, residents and the wider community will have access to a range of services including a social supermarket, a commercial laundry facility, a suite of toilets and showers, a medical facility, a chapel and a large public café that will seat 120 people.
The building is well underway, with all concrete works now completed. Its construction is unique in the way that it’s made of lightweight steel framing and solid timber floors (CLT) – the first of its kind in Wellington.
A unique difference in the housing offered in Whakamaru is that the staff of the Wellington City Mission will also be based in the building, says Mr Edridge.
“The City Mission offices will be on the same floor as the residential apartments. The common areas for the residents will be the same spaces for the staff. The purpose of that is that I want us all to function in intentional community so the staff can go about their day-to-day work in the building and build relationships with the long-term transitional residents.”
“The building is deemed transitional. We describe ourselves as not being a housing provider, we’re a social services provider and we offer accommodation in order to deliver social services.
“Residents that come into Whakamaru will be provided with services beyond their basic housing needs. We will support and encourage people to get to the stage where they don’t need us anymore and are able continue to live their lives independently.
“This building is going to be transformational for the city. Now that’s a big claim. Do I believe it? Absolutely I believe it. It’s only a building, but its importance is what it enables to happen,” he says.
“If we think about how we can equip this community to understand how to care for itself and the people in it who need support, then it’s a way bigger opportunity. For example, in our Social Supermarket, for most of our shoppers, it is not that they have a food problem, they have a problem with a whole lot of other things that are going on their lives. Inadequacy of household income. The cost of housing, the cost of debt, the cost of the whole lot of other things that are going on for them. But what it means is the end of the day is there’s not enough money to buy food for the household, so they come to us at a time of stress, of embarrassment, and under real pressure.”
With a vision of the building being open 24/7, Mr Edridge is inviting Wellingtonians to get involved in the building and volunteer time when it opens next year and be understanding of the reasons why someone may need support.
“We’re serious about the dignity of choice, so why don’t we offer people the same experience that you and I enjoy,” he says.
Find out more about Wharamaru and other Wellington City Mission initiatives on their website.