Pavilion's demise relieves Gap Filler

ABBIE NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 22/03/2014

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The Gap Filler Pallet Pavilion will finally achieve its full potential, 485 days after it first opened to the public.

The pavilion was always meant to be temporary and when it comes down on April 7 the project, as it was first intended, will come to an end.

It was given a stay of execution a year ago, but bottom line, Gap Filler say the project will lead to its ruin if it stays any longer.

The Pallet Pavilion was and remains the biggest project taken on by Gap Filler.

What started as a hair-brained scheme with a five-month life, ended up an 18-month odyssey.

Over the months the pavilion has attracted countless thousands of visitors, hosted more than 250 events and provided a positive focal point in a slow and often depressing earthquake recovery.

It's been home to book signings, teddy bear picnics, pirate parties, concerts, and outdoor movie nights.

Christchurch loves it. That love was demonstrated this time last year when more than $80,000 was raised in 30 days.

The money kept the pavilion alive for a year longer than originally planned. An ongoing pallet-sponsoring programme meant the people could leave their mark on its walls, contributing to its survival.

However, the pavilion's continued existence goes far beyond the dollar. People have made it possible. Time is more valuable than any donation.

Thousands of volunteer hours have been notched up by locals and visitors, young and old. Some lend a hand for a day, others have been constant companions through thick and thin.

Gap Filler director Coralie Winn has devoted her heart and soul, and a significant portion of her life to the pavilion.

"I look back on the project and I think it was really quite insane," she says.

In the early days, it almost didn't make the cut. The brief was for a temporary venue made from pallets for music and community events. The first step was to approach the Fire Service for advice.

"I still remember it so clearly," Winn says. "They said they did not support this project going ahead in any way.

"My heart hit the floor. They basically saw it as a big stack of firewood."

There were two options: pull the plug, or build it from something else.

Never one to be defeated by scepticism, Winn pressed on with the project and asked the Fire Service to be part of the process.

While the pavilion is a beacon of transitional architecture and community cohesion, it has a darker side.

It is the most expensive project in Gap Filler's history.

"Running a substantial and ongoing community venue is not actually what Gap Filler is all about," Winn says.

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"Our role is to be the testers of new ideas. We take something on, get it going, then hopefully we hand it on to someone else to manage.

"Fundamentally, we are transitional."

The pavilion has been managed by Gap Filler for 18 months.

"While this exists we can't do any other big projects," Winn says. "This is time-hungry, it's expensive, and it's all-consuming."

From the surface, the pavilion looks pretty straight forward. Beneath the surface, it's a serious undertaking.

Arson risk means the pavilion must always have someone onsite. Volunteers have given their time to keep the pavilion safe.

From 10.30pm security takes over. The duty now falls to a branch of the Maori Wardens. They offer their services at a reduced rate, but it still costs.

On top of just watching the pavilion, volunteers run the bar, tend the plants, clean and maintain the wider site, give information to visitors, help at events and much more.

The ongoing level of volunteer support is unlikely to be seen anywhere else in Christchurch.

On top of security costs and the manpower required, the pavilion needs power, maintenance, equipment, insurance, and a permanent team to run the events calendar.

People have suggested the Gap Filler team hire out the venue at market rates.

"Yes, theoretically we could do that, but if we were to ramp up the cost of hiring it, that wouldn't be in the spirit of the place," Winn says.

The pavilion is for the community and not a business venture.

"Some people would never be able to afford to use it."

The Pallet Pavilion has launched careers, inspired businesses, and supported even the most outlandish ideas.

For young musician Elly Aldridge, the pavilion has been at the heart of her career.

"I actually cried at my last performance," she says.

For someone new to the stage, the Pallet Pavilion provided a relaxed atmosphere.

"I struggled to find gigs after the earthquake. It's been a massive part of my career."

Aldridge does not want to see the pavilion go. At the very least she would like to see part of it retained as a memorial somewhere.

"So many people got behind it, and not the richest people either, but people who really cared.

"It may seem like this crazy idea but really it's really quite amazing. One of a kind."

The deconstruction is the final step for the pavilion. "This is what was always meant to happen," Winn says. "This project isn't over until the components have gone on to be something else."

Little will be wasted. "One of these little pallets has a 20- year lifetime," Winn says. "The fact it spent almost two of those year as a pavilion, and will go on to ship cans of Coke around the world is pretty amazing."

Anything not claimed will be offered to the public to recycle.

"There's been a lot of landfill created as part of this disaster, but this will not be a demolition, it will be a deconstruction."

On April 5, the end of the pavilion will be celebrated with a percussive performance of music written specifically for the moment. The community will say its final farewells.

"It will be a sad thing for some people in Christchurch, but it doesn't have to be," Winn says. "It's our decision. We want to take it down, we have to."

Gap Filler has use of the site until 2015. A temporary amphitheatre will be onsite through winter, making way for bigger and better things come summer.

Above all, transitional projects like the pavilion are almost research projects for the permanent projects coming after them. The "incredible learning experience" of the pavilion will be valuable FOR those ideas coming after.

"We have loved this project. It has been absolutely amazing," Winn says. "But it's just time for something new, and for moving forward."

 

THE END NEARS

The deconstruction will take six weeks and an army of volunteers will be required. Anyone can lend a hand any day during that time (minimum volunteer time of half a day).

Email questions to richard@gapfiller.org.nz.

The Pallet Pavilion has a full dance card for its last three weeks.

Highlights of the last few weeks include a talent show (7pm, March 28), Sunday Jam Session (1pm, March 30), Deconstruction Orchestra (April 5, 8pm).

Haven't visited yet? This is your last chance. 


- The Press

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