Gellen hoping to lift the Taranaki region's game

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2014
Jennie Gellen
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ
IN CHARGE: Jenny Gellen has already made changes since taking over as chairwoman of Sport Taranaki.

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Sport Taranaki has a new leader at the helm after the retirement of David Lean last year. Glenn McLean talks to chairwoman Jenny Gellen about her vision for the future.

Things will be done a bit differently under the watch of new Sport Taranaki chairwoman Jenny Gellen.

After two decades of former New Plymouth District Mayor David Lean being in the chair, there was always going to be a shift in style and some new ideas.

"We have implemented something different straight away in that I now have two deputy principals, I mean deputy chairs," Gellen says, with an inadvertent slip of the tongue.

You can take the teacher out of the classroom but not the classroom out of the teacher, it seems.

That's especially so for Gellen, with the countdown on before she walks out of the principal's office at Waitara High School for the last time at the end of term one after more than seven years in the job.

A Sport Taranaki board of trustee for the past seven years, Gellen now sits at the top of the table with Maurice Gilmour and Cheryl Leuthart beside her as back-up.

"I think they both bring complementary skills to myself and I think we have a really strong group when it comes to governance," Gellen says.

As well as the trio of leaders, the Sport Taranaki board contains Ian Cull, Billy Tipene, David Ogier, Andrew Baylis, Alice Tocker, Gordon Brown, Bonita Bigham, Paul Phillips and Alan Jamieson.

Gellen says the "go forward" for Sport Taranaki is having a board that recognises the changing demographic in the province, especially the region's ageing population and their sport and recreation needs.

"Also, to me, I'd really like to see Sport Taranaki as the hub of sport in the province, the go-to place," she says.

With only two meetings as chairwoman under her belt, Gellen admits a number of ideas have yet to be thrashed out, while changes will take time.

As chairwoman of the Taranaki Secondary Schools Sports Association, she knows the challenges of co-ordinating multiple parties with different interests.

Her guidance, in part, comes from long-serving Sport Taranaki chief executive Howie Tamati, as well as general manager Ross Fulton, who she speaks to at least two or three times a week.

As for areas to work on, Gellen acknowledges there are always areas that need improvement, like any organisation.

"It doesn't matter who has been sitting at the top and for how long. I think the board that is sitting around the table now might have more input in the strategic direction of Sport Taranaki.

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"I'm very strong on basing my decisions on evidence when it comes to taking the next steps and I know Sport New Zealand has a lot of information we can use. My only issue with that is Sport New Zealand's direction is often dictated to by the government. If a government changes, quite often the focus can change and then in turn changes the direction of regional sports trusts."

Gellen's a big fan of the Skills4Life programme, which was introduced to improve the basic skills for students and teachers.

She is adamant that without the programme many sporting codes in the region would not see participation numbers grow.

She also knows all too well changing lifestyles have hit sporting numbers as hard as the advent of technology in the home and the reluctance of parents to give their children the push they need to get involved.

As for the sports organisations which have come and gone from Sport Taranaki, Gellen does not think "bridges have to be mended" between various parties.

"I don't know if mend is the right word. One of my aims in the next year, and I've given myself a year to do it, is to go and listen to the RSOs [regional sports organisations] and the NSOs [national sports organisations] in Taranaki because they have really valuable input.

"They will have the ideas of how they want to see Sport Taranaki grow and I really want to sit down and have one-on-ones with the people in charge of those sports. From cricket, to rugby, to netball, to surfing, to orienteering, the whole lot."

In the meantime she has her commitments to Waitara High School to fulfil before she starts organising the first of what could be a long list of meetings.

Strategically, Gellen feels Sport Taranaki is well positioned to move forward.

"Absolutely, we have so many good people involved. Around the board we have a lot of wise heads and there are also some new heads with fresh ideas."

- Taranaki Daily News

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