Fires can't stop popular festival

Last updated 13:00 22/01/2014
Moutere Hills Community Centre
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

BATTLING BACK: Moutere Hills Community Centre facility manager Katrina McLean, left, and Sarau Festival co-organiser Jenny Leith at the rebuilt centre.

Moutere hills fire
David Higgins Zoom
Smoke billows from the fire at the Moutere Hills Community Centre.

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A year ago today, the Moutere Hills Community Centre was gutted by fire.

Jenny and Phil Leith were in the middle of their blackcurrant harvest when they got the call. "When we got there, it felt devastating. Firemen, water and smoke were everywhere, and everything was black," said Mrs Leith.

Mr Leith chairs the centre's board, and the fire came just two weeks before the Sarau Festival was due to be held there. The festival, which celebrates the blackcurrant harvest, attracts a crowd of around 5000 and is a major fundraiser for the Moutere community and the centre.

The blaze was caused by a fault in wiring in a ceiling. Bravely, the community rallied and decided to go ahead with the festival despite the hall being a charred mess.

Businesses helped with the extras that were needed, from generators to extra sponsorship. "It was good," said Mrs Leith, one of the festival organisers.

The rebuild got under way, with insurance from the Tasman District Council covering the main costs.

Nobody expected the second fire that damaged the centre in April, however. "It seemed unbelievable it could happen again," Mrs Leith said.

The rebuild is not yet complete. Tradesmen are still at work, and there are plans for a fitness centre to be built in an extension. Nine submissions were received supporting the proposal, and a recommendation that it go ahead will go to the council's community development committee next month.

The council has paid $45,000 towards enchancements to the centre but will not pay anything towards the fitness centre.

The community centre, through fundraising, had contributed nearly $80,000 towards the enhancements and had already raised half the $180,000 cost of the fitness centre, said councillor Judene Edgar, who chairs the committee and the fitness centre working party.

"They have done some significant fundraising in the last year. It's quite gobsmacking - they've been knocked down twice by the fires and come back not just fighting to get the facility back, but bigger and better. You just have to applaud their attitude."

Now the countdown is on for this year's Sarau Festival, which will be held on the afternoon of Sunday, February 2.

It will boast 120 stalls, and a marquee where the public can learn more about some of the Moutere area's industries, such as olives, cider apples, mushrooms, olives and blackcurrants.

Chef Miles Drewery will do cooking demonstrations and help to judge the cooking competitions, Groove Collective will headline the entertainment, and crosscountry bicycle rides of 12km and 28km will give people a chance to go through fields not usually open to the public.

"We want people to come out for a fun afternoon and evening, and support our community centre," said Mrs Leith.

The Sarau Festival at the Moutere Hills Community Centre on the Moutere Highway will open from 3pm on February 2; $5 entry, children free.

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- The Nelson Mail

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