How do you kick children out of a building?
You do it by language. You refer to the building in Cornwall Park as the "Former Tea Kiosk".
It is never "The Current Hastings Playcentre" but always the "Former Tea Kiosk" in any Hastings District Council communication.
And you call it a "Draft Reserve Management Plan", not "what we're going to do with your park" or "a notice of eviction".
You do it by law. You insist that because its use as a collective childcare environment doesn't fit in with the acknowledged uses of a certain type of public space (irrespective of the number of decades that childcare operation has been running for), now is the time to enforce the law.
No one is at fault - it is simply the law. Written by someone else, implemented by them, and unchangeable by us. Unchangeable by the people that own it.
You do it by insisting the current situation can be retained, that all can proceed as before, that there is no reason status quo cannot be maintained.
You do this all while not stating the new constraints that make that impossible. You do it by ignoring the fact that if Playcentre was a multi-million dollar enterprise, our council would be bending over backwards to accommodate it.
You do it by privileging money over people, over common humanity.
You decide that a building, used every day of the week by our youngest citizens, by families, by people who might not have the income or the ability to send their toddlers off to a private daycare business, is a wasting asset.
We learn our lessons from Wall Street, from the NZX - we decide that if we own something it must bring us money. You can't quantify joy. Or families.
So a Tea Kiosk it must be - a tuck shop to sell junk food to people milling around the new playground you've installed. You couch your investment.
You do it because you are incapable of understanding something that exists outside a business model. A collective group, that runs itself, for the benefit of its children and its parents, is beyond the understanding of the corporate brain.
Things must pay for themselves. Things like hospitals, things like mental health support. Everything has a price, we are told, by the people who are running the assets we own.
You do it by ignoring the seasonal nature of the sport that takes up the self-same park for a couple of days every week in summer; whose play is called off by rain.
You allow this on our land but you do not allow a small collective space - not much bigger than a wicket - for parents and children, that functions five days a week; winter, spring, summer, autumn; rain, shine, northwesterly or snow.
You do it to please a group of people nostalgic for a tea kiosk in Cornwall Park. Never mind its current use, never mind the children, the parents, the beautiful functionality of it.
We used to be able to enjoy a good brew there in the 1950s. We could sip a cup of tea, ponder ducks and the British Empire. These delights, withheld for so many decades, now to be returned, now to be prised from that obnoxious group, that clique, that insidious, inward-looking cabal: parents.
You do it because it is an opportunity. You do it so that the mother or the father of one of these small children can get a job behind the new tea kiosk till, a job paid for by ratepayers that will give them just enough money to put their child into daycare.
A job at which they can sit, from Monday to Friday in an empty building, empty but for the old couple who used to come here in the 1950s and who make a pot of tea last two hours. Them and the odd person who buys a Twix.
That parent can sit in those echoey walls behind the till, bored, on their phone, looking at the pictures they get sent of their child from the employees at the daycare, and ponder the nature of progress.
You do it because you can't stand to have a building so amenable and yet so closed off for all but a certain group. Never mind that that group is for our most precious asset. You do it because you forgot your own vulnerability all those years ago.
You do it because the people you hurt the most can't talk back.
Oliver Styles is a Hawke's Bay winemaker and wine writer based in Hastings. Both his children attended Playcentre in Cornwall Park. The centre's lease is not being renewed beyond June 2021, when the building will become a community centre.