Look through the records of Takapuna's PumpHouse Theatre and a handful of names appear repeatedly during its history.

One of these is former North Shore City councillor and PumpHouse near neighbour Genevieve Becroft who, from the early 1960s, joined residents lobbying to have the North Shore's former water pumping station turned into a community arts centre. Now, 55 years on, her name will be more than a mark on a page.

The 192-seat PumpHouse Theatre has been renamed the Genevieve Becroft Auditorium, honouring her contribution to saving the historic building and role as an arts patron and advocate for North Shore artists.

Now in her eighties, Becroft recalls the days when the pumphouse (in service from 1905-41) was a derelict building scheduled for demolition. She says the water level of adjacent Lake Pupuke was so low, her children — Maria, Chester, Gabrielle and Tabitha — could clamber into drains and tunnels and access the building.

Advertisement

A kindergarten teacher, Becroft had lived in Cincinnati with her husband Dr David Becroft, a paediatric pathologist later instrumental in the development of Auckland's Starship Hospital. While in the US, she'd volunteered with the YMCA working with the children of migrant families.

In return, they offered her free pottery classes and a nearly life-long interest in the arts, and their role in bringing communities together, blossomed. More importantly, she'd seen the community successfully lobby to have an old building restored and converted into a theatre.

Becroft says this gave her the impetus to join, in 1962, those battling to save the pumphouse. That wish was granted 11 years later when the then Takapuna City Council declared it a preserved public amenity; theatre performances began in 1977.

Daughter Gabrielle has fond memories of her family's involvement with the PumpHouse Theatre — watching her parents dressing up for medieval balls, selling guppies at the famed PumpHouse picnics and spending countless hours folding pamphlets to be delivered telling locals about what was on there.

"Community was really important to them. This shows great appreciation for what mum has done," she says of the theatre renaming.

Genevieve and David set up a trust which became the Becroft Foundation using proceeds from a land sale. The foundation has since supported dozens of causes, many of them arts related, but also including Starship, local schools, North Shore Hospice, Riding for the Disabled, Forest & Bird and marae.

The recipient of a Queen's Service Medal in 2001, their philanthropy has seen hundreds of children from low decile schools attend shows by Tim Bray Productions. One of New Zealand's biggest sculpture events also owes its success to the Becrofts. In 1995, she joined the Friends of Women's Refuge Trust to support its North Shore branch and Camilla House, a refuge for women and children with disabilities.

After the success of its first fundraiser, an art and sculpture exhibition which raised $23,000, she opened her home and carefully-tended garden as a venue for Sculpture OnShore. During the next few years, the event grew to attract up to 5000 visitors prompting its move to Fort Takapuna Historic Reserve. It is now one of the biggest and most important fundraisers for Women's Refuge.

"I think making a contribution to the community is important," says Becroft.

"I have had an extraordinary time. Happiness is something that you're lucky to have. I just feel blessed, really, and fortunate. I guess that's one of the reasons that makes me want to help."