Te Kotahitanga Marae in Whangarei is now the heart of the Otangarei community, thanks to technology.

In May last year the marae became Northland's first to be "wired" after the opening of what is now known as the hub - a room next to the wharekai that boasts 12 computers that have access to ultra-fast broadband (UFB).

Since connecting to the UFB, the marae that was once "always closed" is now buzzing with people.

Marae chairman Alex Henare said he'd noticed "a lot of changes" since the hub opened - all positive.


"It's targeted youth. We see adults in here, but it's mainly youth. They get to pour all their stuff into the computer. Most days I don't come in here but when I do it's always full."

The day the Advocate reporter visited all but three computers were in use, with the kids on them laughing and joking and too busy playing games and enjoying the holidays to talk about how much they enjoyed the free UFB access.

"It's been so positive for youth. A big problem was that (before the UFB connection) they didn't have anything to do and with that comes all that negative stuff. It's going really well."

Mr Henare said the hub was definitely the "drawcard" of the marae.

"Before, the gates were locked. It was always closed. I really wanted to draw it away from being something that was only opened when someone died.

"The hub has brought people in. Now we get people who just come and sit in the marae," he said.

During the Christmas period programmes teaching basic computer skills had been held and Mr Henare said he hoped the programmes would develop.

"It's about building their self-confidence and giving them positive things to do. Most have never had the opportunity to own a computer. The hub provides that opportunity. If we can get more people into jobs because of this it's great," he said.

The community has run other initiatives based at the marae including a shed where people can get their bikes fixed for free, te reo classes and kapa haka practices once a week.

Mr Henare urged other marae to learn from the initiative. "You get that real sense of marae back."