Centrepoint: How a controversial Auckland commune was transformed into a ‘place of healing’

The trust generates income from the residents' rent, casual accommodation, its on-site café and venue hire. Rooms and facilities are booked out for conferences, they hold annual festivals and there is even a school holiday programme. It is open to the general public, but some choose not to come because of its dark past.

Many people from overseas used to visit, particularly to learn yoga, or volunteer in between the fruit picking season. They used to have up to 50 volunteers at a time - more in the lead up to the big festivals held on site - but that number has dwindled to around 15.

Annette is the volunteer manager and arrived after the second level 4 lockdown last year, having hunkered down off-grid in Raglan for the months prior.

The crystal sound therapist with a background in law and business quickly put her skills to use, bringing older and younger volunteers together, giving volunteers their own rooms and bridging the divide between them and residents.

Everyone is always coming to her with problems, usually ones she can handle. It is fine if people have issues they are working through, she says. But while KP might be a lot of things, it is not a mental health or addiction service.

Annette would like to see the place focus more on becoming self-sustainable, a sentiment echoed by many of the residents and returning volunteer, French man Thomas Tournant.

After eight months travelling and working on orchards, Tournant came back a couple months ago after chatting with management about plans for a Heal NZ festival next year. But he is driven to stay by a passion for the land.

"We need people to stay mindful to make this place what it should be because there is so much potential," he says.

When the Prema Trust purchased the site, trustees Phillip and Jennifer Cottingham had a vision to build a place where people can learn about all sorts of different ways of living and environmental and ecological awareness.

"We really see it as an education centre - an example of living in a busy urban environment but still close to nature," Phillip says.

They wish to establish community wellbeing programmes, day seminars and eventually a residential wellbeing facility where people who are discharged from hospital can be cared for as they transition back into their lives.

Phillip says he and Jenny view themselves as kaitiaki, caretakers of the land.

"It's still an unfolding vision, but the vision was to have a campus for our college (Wellpark College of Natural Therapies) and a residential healing facility, and it was clear also that there would be people living here who could align with the land and part of what we wanted to do was to make sure that the existing bush and forest was all preserved."

It appears that as long as the site remains in the hands of the trust, this slither of oasis in northern Auckland's concrete jungle, will remain. And one day seeds will grow into trees which will once again hide the highway and the big Mitre 10 across the road - the only visible reminders of what's outside.


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