Tess Nichol is an NZME. News Service reporter.

Fury over GirlGuiding camp's sale

Veterans quit amid Girl Guide meltdown as piece of history goes up for grabs.
Otimai, a Girl Guides lodge located on Kauri Loop Rd in Oratia. The property is up for sale, much to the disappointment of many in the Guiding community. Photo / Jas
Otimai, a Girl Guides lodge located on Kauri Loop Rd in Oratia. The property is up for sale, much to the disappointment of many in the Guiding community. Photo / Jas

A feud over GirlGuiding NZ's planned sell-off of its historic 3.145ha Oratia camp - gifted to it 89 years ago - has split the movement, leading some long-time members to quit in protest.

Opponents have described the process as being untrue to the values that Guiding stands for and claim losing the Otimai camp, in West Auckland, could rob young members of valuable life experiences.

But GirlGuiding NZ says the land has to be sold to help secure the moment's long-term future.

The Weekend Herald has been told at least six movement veterans in the Auckland area had resigned since the stoush began in January.

Many ashes are scattered on the land, including its benefactor Mrs R. W. Wilson and Guiding old girl Dot Harding's first husband, Mick.

It was a sacred place, Harding said, tearing up as she described the way the sun would filter through the trees near the chapel where her husband's ashes lay.

"It's a special place, we can't describe it - you have to feel it."

Harding was part of a small but vocal group against the sale of Otimai who believed the board valued money more than history and tradition, and had made up their minds to sell long before officially announcing it - something the organisation's CEO strongly denied.

Maintenance issues and financial viability were brought into question after the property was found to be running at a loss of nearly $200,000 between 2009 and 2015.

GirlGuiding New Zealand boss Susan Coleman told the Weekend Herald a loss of that size was simply not sustainable for a charitable organisation.

"The majority of our members understand why we're [selling]. We're going through a significant period of change at GirlGuiding to make sure we have a future," she said.

Several meetings were held late last year to discuss the future of Otimai and a passionate group of Guiding members, most of who had stayed at Otimai as girls, worked hard to put forward options to turn the property's fate around.

Suggestions included renting the property out to corporate groups on weekends, adding a sauna and central heating, extending the parking space so it could accommodate tour buses and market the property as an adventure resort.

In March this year, it was announced the board had decided to sell the property.

"We certainly acknowledge that this is difficult for some of our former members and current members and that has never been glossed over," Coleman said.

She was sad the issue had become so heated but the reality was the volunteer work which had gone into maintaining Otimai was not sustainable and the suggestion put forward were too expensive, she said.

"The organisation does not have capital funds to develop the site or build new buildings.

"Our organisation is about girls and all the decisions that are made must be relevant to our girls."

Coleman said the process around the decision, which included public meetings and feedback sessions, was robust and transparent, something members unhappy with the sale disputed.

One woman, Alison Hucke, resigned as a member this year after more than 35 years of service to the Guiding movement.

Hucke said she and others felt shut out of the process around the sale of Otimai and that her questions and suggestions to management went unanswered as she rallied to save the property.

"I could raise $1 million for Otimai in six weeks," she said.

"They want to sell this out from all the girls in the future. Our daughters and our granddaughters have the right to have those experiences."

In July Hucke received an email from Coleman asking her to "cease and desist" communication with the Guiding board, office, and members of the public to try and overturn the board's decision to sell.

Raewynne MacKenzie, who has resigned as a Pippins leader after joining recently, said she was shocked and disgusted at the way Hucke and others had been spoken to.

"The values, the thing that attracted me to Guiding for my daughter was its values - integrity and honesty.

"They have let themselves down and they've hurt people. There's people for who Guiding was a way of life, and these are the people that have been dismissed."

Context box:
Otimai, meaning "welcome, come and stay," is for many Guiding members the symbolic home for Guides in New Zealand.
It was the first Guiding centre in the country.
The 3ha hectare property was gifted by the movement's first Chief Commissioner R. W. Wilson and her family to the Girl Guiding movement in 1927.
Its lodge sleeps 40 people and the grounds include a fairy ring, manager's cottage, hand built chapel and a large camping area.
Address: 1 Kauri Loop Rd, Oratia, Auckland.
It will be put up for tender on the 8th of September, closing on the 6th of October.

- Herald on Sunday

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