Education Gazette - School gym finds new life as inclusive community centre
School gym finds new life as inclusive community centre
A former school gym has a new lease on life following the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. The facility has been converted into a community-based sports and recreational centre, and since its opening in 2022, has provided numerous benefits to the local community.
Avon Hub, formerly the gym of Shirley Boys’ High School, is bringing more than 17 diverse organisations, four schools and a community together to foster social connections and provide a home-ground for a refreshed sense of community and wellbeing.
Located in east Ōtautahi, the facilities include a basketball court-sized gym (including the option for two half-courts with hoops), a function and events room, several offices and a large outdoor turf (complete with floodlights) suitable for hockey and futsal.
“It’s a really significant asset,” says Toni Burnside, principal of Pareawa Banks Avenue School, which lies adjacent to Avon Hub.
“How lucky are we to have a brand-new school, with this incredible high school-sized gymnasium next door for us to use.”
Kate Latimer, manager at Eastern Community Sport and Recreation Inc, says Christchurch is generally short of indoor court spaces for community sport and recreation.
She adds that the scarcity was worsened by the major 2011 earthquake on Tuesday 22 February which destroyed so many homes in the suburbs surrounding Avon Hub.
Shirley Boys’ High School had significant land damage and relocated to a new shared site with Avonside Girls’ High School in 2019. Following their move, the school was demolished, with the gym remaining on site.
“The easy thing would have been to demolish the gym when they demolished the whole site,” says Toni, recalling how the sports facilities suffered from a spell of vandalism.
With community support and the go-ahead from the Ministry of Education, the site was refurbished, reopening as Avon Hub in May 2022.
A community model
Avon Hub represents a partnership between schools and local sporting organisations.
“It’s a really interesting community model,” says Toni, explaining that her school and those within the wider kāhui ako have access to the facilities both during school hours and after school.
Learners from up to four schools use the indoor facilities for sports, wet weather option for lunches, PE and after-school programmes. After 4pm, through a partnership between the kāhui ako and Eastern Community Sport and Recreation, Avon Hub is used by diverse groups including Wheelblack camps (New Zealand’s Wheelchair Rugby Team), the Canterbury Skating Academy, and TiMA – a tailored physical activity programme for tamariki and rangatahi with disabilities.
Toni says she’s grateful decision-makers worked hard to listen to the community and serve the region while providing room for expansion and growth.
“It’s really lovely to see it being used by those other groups and for it to be an ongoing conversation about how else it’s being used and what else could happen,” she says.
Avon Hub has received endless praise from the community since opening.
Cody Everson, Paralympian and captain of the Wheelblacks, attended Shirley Boys’ High School and says it was tough to see his old school demolished. He was therefore glad that the east Christchurch community rallied to preserve its sport facilities.
“Seeing what the Avon Hub has done to the last remaining building is amazing,” says Cody.
“It’s a privilege to be able to train at the Avon Hub as it means a lot to me, and seeing what they are doing for a disabled community is outstanding.”
Riki Edmonds, the Ministry of Education delivery manager who helped oversee the site’s refurbishment, says the community love having a local facility like the Avon Hub.
“It is great to see good quality assets retained and repurposed that can have such a positive impact on ākonga.”
An inclusive space
Even before the earthquakes, adequate facilities for indoor sports were hard to come by.
Kate compares Christchurch’s case to that of Dunedin, a city two-thirds smaller than Christchurch.
“[Dunedin] has 25 indoor courts at the Edgar Centre, which has operated successfully for more than 25 years,” she says.
By comparison, Christchurch has a total of seven courts across three facilities.
“As such, the residents of Christchurch’s eastern suburbs could ill afford to lose the facilities now branded as the Avon Hub,” says Kate.
The courts provided by Avon Hub are essential for special needs sports. Kate says these assets have been “particularly well received by organisations based around para-sports, inclusion and accessibility”.
She adds this popularity reflects a real desire for well-maintained, inclusive facilities in Christchurch.
“Having identified a clear need for such facilities, services and programmes, we look to extend this in future,” says Kate.
One key step in this direction is a partnership between Avon Hub and the Laura Fergusson Brain Injury Trust, a charity that serves, among others, those with traumatic and acquired brain and spinal injuries. The trust is building a campus directly adjacent to Avon Hub, with agreements in place for patients to use the space for recreational and therapeutic support.
Avon Hub shows the community’s need to come together to enjoy sport, inclusive activities, and to feel a sense of togetherness. The facility’s rebirth represents a new model for how public spaces can be reworked to suit different needs.
“One of our strategic pillars is connecting the community,” continues Toni. “It’s really nice to be involved in that connection – to have a resource like that which we not only get the full use of … but also get to share with our neighbours.”
Praise for Avon Hub
“The Avon Hub has been successfully transitioned from an unused school gym to a wonderful sports facility that is well utilised and benefits the local community and the sports people who use it. It is a testament to what can be achieved when community groups are prepared to stand up with vision and energy to meet the needs of their community.” Steve Jones-Poole, community development activator of Shirley Village.
“The eastern suburbs lost so many community facilities due to the 2010/11 earthquakes and the transition of the Avon Hub to a community facility has allowed local sporting codes to continue to operate and even grow in the area with the extra capacity it provides.” Greg Mitchell, coach of Canterbury Wheelchair Rugby.
“The Avon Hub is a huge asset. It provides a safe place for our tamariki and rangatahi to spend time with their mates and join in on quality physical activity opportunities provided by the local community.” Isaac Sutherland, Sport Canterbury’s lead community connector.