Organisers of a public meeting aiming to get Kerikeri residents more involved in shaping their town's future were afraid no one would show up.

Instead, they ended up with the opposite problem — so many people they barely fitted in the venue.

More than 320 people turned out for Wednesday evening's meeting at the Turner Centre, called by Kerikeri accountant Annika Dickey as a first step towards setting up a new community group.

The group, with the working title Our Kerikeri, is closely modelled on Focus Paihia, a charitable trust which has transformed a fractious and slightly shabby Paihia into a more unified town with a raft of community-led beautification projects.

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The meeting was run by Focus Paihia founders Grant Harnish and Tania McInnes, who will guide the Kerikeri group through its initial stages.

People attending the meeting were asked to write down one thing that made them happy, angry and (in this photo) sad about Kerikeri. Photo / Peter de Graaf
People attending the meeting were asked to write down one thing that made them happy, angry and (in this photo) sad about Kerikeri. Photo / Peter de Graaf

After a number of warm-up exercises the crowd was split into about 30 groups, each of which had to compile a vision of how they wanted Kerikeri to be by 2029.

The results were remarkably similar. Common themes included a pedestrian- and bike-friendly town centre, better town planning, after-hours medical care, public access to local beaches, an upgrade of Kerikeri Domain, more lighting and footpaths, and more evening and weekend events.

Kirsty Grant, one of the meeting organisers, said she was delighted so many people were passionate about the town and willing to give up an evening.

''It feels like the right time to bring the community together. We've seen what Paihia has achieved, local government is supportive, and there's a sense in the community that they want something more for their town.''

The new group was community-led and independent of any business or political interests, Grant said.

Focus Paihia co-founder and now deputy mayor Tania McInnes addresses the Our Kerikeri community meeting. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Focus Paihia co-founder and now deputy mayor Tania McInnes addresses the Our Kerikeri community meeting. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Nominations were taken for a leadership group which would comprise 12-15 people.

The next step would be to set up economic, environmental, social and cultural focus groups to work on a vision statement of what people wanted for Kerikeri by 2029. That statement would then go back to the community to make sure it had broad support.

The next public meeting was set for April 10.

For people who preferred doing to talking, a ''placemaking'' group would start straight away on town improvement projects.

McInnes told the meeting that Focus Paihia's first project in 2009 was an upgrade of the area in front of the wharf. More than 200 people took part over the course of a weekend.

The group worked up to more ambitious projects such as the reconstruction of a Marsden Rd toilet block once reputed to be the worst in New Zealand and the transformation of a waterfront parking area into a popular public park.

Harnish said the best thing about Focus Paihia was that people who had only ever seen each other on the street had become closely connected.

Go to www.kerikeriourtown.co.nz for more information.