TE MANAWA - COMMUNITY HUB AND CITIZEN-LEAD SPACE
On April 6, Auckland’s first fully integrated community facility – Te Manawa – officially opened. Over 10 years in the making, the multipurpose facility is the first of its kind in Auckland – a community hub which includes a library, built for the city of the future and generations to come. As a cornerstone of Westgate’s urban complex, Te Manawa wants to provide West Aucklanders with space and resources to explore, connect and grow. Te Manawa Manager, Margo Athy gave Helen Heath a tour.
Even on a wet and grey day the building is light, open and welcoming. The name Te Manawa, meaning ‘the heart’, was given to the facility by Matua Heta Tobin of Ngāti Whātua Ngā Maunga Whakahii o Kaipara, along with names for the many spaces within the hub. The name for the entrance space delightfully translates to ‘butterflies flitting and finding a space to land’.
It quickly becomes clear that this space is more than a library, it’s a facility that provides a range of valuable community services under one roof, by one team. Locals can pay their rates and register their dog before checking out some books and using the 3D printer. From the creative hub and recording studios to the Citizens Advice Bureau, the language collections to the event, functions and meeting rooms for hire, the hub has something for the whole community, including a commercial kitchen and business hub. There is also a team dedicated to Programming and Outreach.
For Auckland Libraries, Te Manawa reflects the evolution of libraries into an open place for the community to come together. It’s been set up as a citizen-lead space, based first and foremost on the needs of the residents such as longer opening hours and specialist staff for different parts of the community. The team continues to gather feedback, such as what to add to their creative programmes, from the community.
Nestled at the core of the whole facility, giving it particular energy and vibrancy, is the children’s space – Te Whare Tapere – created by multidisciplinary award-winning artist Robin Rawstorne. Inspired by the concept of a pool in the middle of a forest glade with curved, wooden structures rippling out, the space is uniquely designed to encourage play. It includes a stage for storytelling and performances, nooks to curl up in, and movable book bins to change the area’s shape and size.
Helen asked about the challenges the team faced in setting up a prototype facility. Margo says that a soft launch on March 26 was key to the successful official opening in April. Two thousand people came through the building on the first day of the soft launch, testing the team and building.
Margo was pleased that the worst thing to happen on the official opening day was that a child got locked in the loo. This soft launch gave the team a buffer of a week and a half to ensure everything was working well before the hard launch in April, which saw an astonishing five thousand people come through the building over the course of one day.
Having a long lead-in time was important for the success of the project. The recruitment deadline was tight but the staff had one month of training in the new building to ensure Te Manawa was fully operational before being scrutinised by the public – Margo feels this directly contributed to the successful opening. Margo says staff felt confident and ready when the hard launch came. The first day staff began to use the building coincided with its blessing, which felt auspicious and reassuring.
The long lead-in time also allowed for community workshops and a chance to reassure community groups that the Te Manawa team was keen to work with them in a noncompetitive, collaborative way to ensure positive outcomes for the whole community.
Because Te Manawa sits on the border of two other council areas they often deal with patrons who are not officially eligible to use the facilities but the teams work to ensure all are welcome, despite local body boundaries. Margo says, we are focusing on who our neighbours are – reporting councils or not.
There are logistical challenges around reporting with a facility that sits within Auckland Libraries but with half of its services being non-traditional library services. There are three teams and four different reporting systems with different outcomes, the teams need to work smart to keep all the staff using different systems connected. Peer networks and professional development is vital to making this work.
The office is also set up with ‘Spoke’ desks so any Auckland Council worker can dock in and work seven days from 9am to late – allowing flexibility for many staff who live locally. There is still plenty of work to do as the team heads into Phase Two and consolidate.
Margo comes from a varied background in managing community centres and theatre and venue management. She also has experience working in libraries and sees her current role as a culmination of all these skills.
Almost everything we do is new – creating new ways of doing, says Margo, marketing was a challenge – how do we let our community know who we are and what we do? However, the public are mostly open to seeing libraries as much more now. To begin with, the team were constantly explaining themselves and the new concept, getting council and the public used to the new idea. Margo sees this as an investment in the future, Te Manawa is paving the way for future hubs and a new way of doing things.
Te Manawa is one of four finalists in the Civic category of the 2019 Interior Awards. The Westgate Library and Multi-Purpose Facility was designed by Warren and Mahoney in collaboration with Rawstorne Studio. Winners will be announced on 27 June at the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) in Auckland.