A community effort to recycle material from Whangārei's old Harbour Board building has come to a close and after two and a half years of chipping, project leader Andrew Garratt is counting nearly 40,000 bricks to be used in the new Hundertwasser Arts Centre.

"Part of Hundertwasser's philosophy was to build out of recycled material. So when the old Harbour Board building was demolished, the decision was made to recycle the bricks and the timber," Garratt said.

Deconstruction work, on what used to be one of Whangārei's oldest buildings, started in July 2018 and shortly after Garratt and his team of volunteers picked up the bricks and started chipping off unwanted mortar.

He said all the recycling work was entirely done by volunteers so the project remained within the community and was resident-led, rather than outsourced to an unknown entity.

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Since 2018, Garratt held weekly working bees, with a longer project break in 2019, and gathered on average 10 volunteers on site.

In over two years, they chipped and neatly arranged around 35,000 bricks on palettes, all ready to become part of the new Hundertwasser Arts Centre. An additional 5000 bricks were donated to the group, totalling their amount to 40,000.

The volunteer group started recycling the bricks from the former Harbour Board building in 2018.
The volunteer group started recycling the bricks from the former Harbour Board building in 2018.

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Garratt said when the group initially started they considered recycling 800 bricks per working bee a good effort – they are now at 1200 per session.

The group was also able to retrieve 3.5km of timber from the old Harbour Board building.

Garratt described the working bees as "good fun" and a "labour of love" saying there was always a great atmosphere when everyone was working together.

After being involved with the entire Hundertwasser project for seven years, Garratt said he was "absolutely excited" to see it coming off the ground.

Despite the dirt, dust and noise volunteers at Thursday's final working bee at the old Army Hall were motivated to complete their milestone task.

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Cathryn Wood had joined the group about six months ago, saying she wasn't in a financial position to help but decided to donate her time instead.

"I have been following the Hundertwasser project since its inception. It's one of the reasons I wanted to be part of the Whangārei community," Wood said.

"The arts centre will set Whangārei on the map, and it's a great thing for me and my family that I could be part of the project."

She said the working bees attracted a diverse group of dedicated people and that she made many friends amongst the volunteers.