Village a hub for community

By Danielle Nicholson

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L-R: Amanda Ratuki, Priscilla Gray, Tash Wade and Genevieve Rorke.
L-R: Amanda Ratuki, Priscilla Gray, Tash Wade and Genevieve Rorke.

Genevieve Rorke is traipsing around Whatawhata's The Village in a sophisticated black shift dress and gumboots. Having changed into the dress to have her photo taken with the other women who are part of joint initiative, she leaves the dress on and simply swaps her sandals for gumboots, getting on with the long list of things that still need to be done before The Village - a half-acre hub that aims to foster a sense of community in the rapidly-growing area - officially opens for business.

Genevieve owns the buildings and will run Cafe at the Village (opening next weekend), hair stylist Priscilla Gray owns The Village Boutique where she works alongside nail artist Tash Wade while Amanda Ratuki's baby is The Village Farm Shop, which will open on Tuesday.

The project began when Genevieve floated the idea by Priscilla whose hairdressing business, then home-based, was getting rather busy. It was perfect timing - she'd been thinking about expanding to a location away from home.

Amanda, who previously managed the Waikato Farmers Market, was brought into the fold and The Village was born.

For the past few months the women have all mucked in to get the area up to scratch.

They've had help from two WWOOFERS (Willing workers on organic farms) from the Czech Republic, family, friends and new employees. They hired locals where possible and there were plenty who volunteered their time.

The women are astounded at the positive feedback they've had from locals who've told them they've waited a long time for something like this to open.

But it's not just a destination for locals. The women are keen to encourage visitors from other areas to visit, to make an outing of it.

It's the perfect spot to take the family for lunch. While mum and dad can sit beneath the shade, there is a sprawling playground and plenty of lawn the kids can run around on, all safely fenced. There's an abundance of mature fruit trees providing shade and a quick snack for the young ones. And the whole area looks north onto paddocks where sheep graze lazily in the summer sun.

The children enjoying the playground and expansive lawn won't just be patrons. Between Genevieve, Priscilla, Amanda and Tash, they have 11 children, all of whom attend nearby Whatawhata School.

When the kids aren't making the most of the outdoor area, they can chill out in their own kids' room, created especially for them by their mums. There are bright cushions and bunting to brighten up the space and room for them to spread out to do their homework.

School is just around the corner, though the road is too busy for the kids to cross alone.

"If there's a 'back in 10 minutes sign' up," says Amanda, "you'll know I've just ducked out to walk the kids back from school."

The kids are enthused about The Village too. When Hamilton News visited, two of the boys were happily sweeping up piles of dust and debris from the building work that's gone on.

Among the construction were several barbecue tables and a table and chair setting, complete with a garden inset to grow lettuces and herbs, fashioned entirely from pallets. A local man made some corrugated iron panels that camouflage an old shed but also act as a nighttime artwork - each panel is decorated so it can be lit from behind at night.

The rustic theme continues in the cafe where it's been lined with raw wood on the walls and ceiling and completed with simple iron light fittings.

Genevieve says the food will be wholesome and tasty. "I purposely decided there would be no deep fryer."

She's just brought chef Sara Wright on board, who was this week finalising the menu. Genevieve is keen on shared platters so there will be some of those, alongside healthy takeaway meals that feature heavily on salads, falafels... options that appeal to adults but also kids at nearby Whatawhata and Te Kowhai schools.

The cafe will use as much local produce as possible, including some that Genevieve will source just next door through Amanda's Farm Shop.

Amanda has sourced products and produce locally, from salami to bread, organic almond milk to free range eggs, skin care to honey. There's meat, ice blocks, coconut yoghurt. It's a locavore's paradise.

Anyone can buy space in the shop, from businesses to people with a home vege garden. "With the Farm Shop model you aren't contracted to us so there's a lot of flexibility," said Amanda.

All the fittings and shelving in the Farm Shop is repurposed and whitewashed to give it a fresh feel.

Next door at The Village Boutique, Priscilla and Tash have already been up and running for a couple of weeks.

For now they are doing hair cuts and nails and will soon expand to offer eyebrow shaping and brow and lash tinting. There are also plans afoot for a tanning booth. It will be set up out the back and the women say they can help with the spray or the booth gives you the option of a DIY job. Simply press a button, stand where you're told to, a quick dry off and you're done.

When we first caught up with Amanda last September to talk about the Farm Shop and The Village, she put out a call for suppliers, pallets and volunteers. Today, she's pretty well sorted but she wants customers to know she won't be supplying plastic bags.

"People have reusable bags in their cars ... I just don't think we need to supply bags ... unless they are happy with one of the few odd ones I'll bring from home," said Amanda. That prompts Genevieve to recount how she'd heard Raglan residents have a scheme going where someone is making reusable bags for fruit and veges and other locally bought goods. Priscilla reckons that's a great idea. "We could put shampoo and hair products in them."

Amanda is on board too: "In that case, can you please put into the story that we would love to have a reusable bag supplier on board!". Done!

The Village is at 1 Rothwell Lane, off the Whatawhata end of Horotiu Rd. For more information, see for contact information, opening hours and links to the individual businesses' Facebook page.

- Hamilton News

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