Hutt at Heart

Back to ‘normal’ for Walter Nash

Walter Nash Centre Event Coordinator Emma Peterson knew that something significant was happening, but never expected it to be this.

Walter Nash Centre Event Coordinator Emma Peterson

“It happened so fast. I knew that it was coming; all you needed to do was watch the news. But I guess I hoped it wouldn’t affect us, that we’d avoid a lockdown like China, Italy and Spain,” said Emma.

But it did. Within a couple of weeks COVID-19 was not only in New Zealand, but there was evidence of community spread. As quickly as Jacinda Ardern introduced the four new alert levels New Zealand was in level 2 and Councils across the country were looking at closing their public facilities.

“Originally we were limited to 100 people indoors and we had to establish whether that meant in whole centre or in each space. Then it went down to 50… then 10. Then that was it. The centre was closed.”

The lockdown happened right before winter sports were about to begin and all bookings had to be cancelled.

“We were coordinating cancellations from the Saturday the alert level announcements were made. We did them week-by-week just in case anything changed, but by the middle of the week it was obvious that we were going to be closed for a while.”

Emma relied quite heavily on multiple different sources of information, from SportNZ to Netball, Basketball and government announcements.

“I’d be on the phone to Netball Hutt Valley and watching the government announcements at the same time.

“It was really good to talk to so many different people so often, I built relationships with associations, clubs, programmes that I never would have before. We were all in the same situation, waiting for the same things.”

The Walter Nash Centre reopened on Monday 18 May after nearly 8 weeks of closure. Stringent physical distancing rules applied and contact tracing was mandatory but slowly people started to trickle back in.

“At first you could tell people were nervous. But the vibe is coming back. With the library programmes restarting and the clubs back in it’s a different place then what it was a few weeks ago.

“When our regulars returned, especially the elderly, they were so happy to see us. And now I get to meet the people I spoke to on the phone – face to face.”

Capital Basketball’s Damien Ekenasio

Catching up with Capital Basketball’s Damien Ekenasio at Walter Nash it’s not immediately obvious that the centre was ever closed.  There’s the hustle and bustle of a large group of kids, all participating in the first Kiwi Hoops Camp since lockdown.

“These kids are chomping at the bit to get back to it. Kids have an appetite for movement; I’ve seen it with my own. It’s so great to be back here. I can tell they missed it and I know we did too,” said Damien.

The lockdown was a huge change for Basketball. Games normally start in April/May and many other programmes happen during school holidays and the off-season.

“The changes and cancellations to our tournaments and events started before the lockdown – the writing was on the wall, but I was still shaken when everything came to a grinding halt.”

Going into lockdown meant that Damien and Capital Basketball needed to ‘swivel’ back and look internally at things like the website and social media.

“Our direction immediately changed. We are basketball, but it’s bigger – it is movement. So we shifted our focus to webinars, online clinics and social media and making sure that the connections we had were moving.”

Connections, like Emma at Walter Nash, were extremely important to Damien and the team at Capital Basketball.

“We have an alignment of purpose – Capital Basketball and Walter Nash. We are community focussed and work with kids in high-deprivation areas to make sure they can participate in activities by taking away barriers, like cost, when we can.

“We were in regular contact with the Walter Nash Centre about re-scheduling and getting their advice and guidance on communicating with the community. We were also in regular contact with SportNZ and other clubs.”

Library Manager Sinéad Carroll

Library Manager Sinéad Carroll is relaxed and enthusiastic about the Walter Nash Library (also known as the Taita Library) returning to a state of normal in the coming weeks.

“Our library is a community space, people come here when they need help, they come here when they’re lonely and they come here because it’s a nice place to be.

“When we reopened after lockdown people didn’t immediately come back – it was a trickle. But everyone we spoke to were happy to be able to visit the library. We’re starting to get kids in after school, the noise and vibe is returning and our more vulnerable community members are beginning to return. It’s great.”

When the lockdown was announced, library staff from all over Lower Hutt began to work on remote activities – using technology to reach the community.

“During lockdown we tried our best to keep our regulars engaged, we used our well-established Facebook page to do our popular Storytime Sessions and re-introduced our online library card so people could access e-resources, e-books and audio books.

“We’d already been working on the Skinny Jump programme providing free modems and affordable internet access and during lockdown we helped more than 90 households across Lower Hutt get online.

“I’m so glad we can be here, both in person and online. For that we’re very lucky.”

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