Hokianga residents who fought a 20-year battle to retain community education in Rawene finally have a chance to bring the town's long-under-utilised campus back to life.
Last week members of Te Puna o Kupenuku, an incorporated society, signed a five-year agreement with the Far North District Council to lease the former NorthTec campus.
The trust will pay just $1 a year but will be responsible for all bills and maintenance.
The signing marks the end of a long campaign for community control of land originally donated for educational purposes, but where courses were steadily cut back over the years until the facility was mothballed by NorthTec in 2017 and abandoned altogether in 2019.
Janine McVeagh, a former NorthTec tutor, said the campaign started in 2002 when the then Northland Polytechnic started winding down the campus.
Some work was required to bring part of the campus up to standard and more furniture was needed but most of the facility was ready to use.
Te Puna o Kupenuku would not teach courses itself but would manage the campus and make it available to community groups and training providers.
The 0.8ha site on Nimmo St East was already used by Hokianga Harbourcare, which used the shade house to grow native seedlings for riparian planting.
It also hosted cheesemaking courses and was a base for the House of Science school education programme.
Expressions of interest were being sought from groups keen to offer courses, she said.
''There's terrific enthusiasm coming from the community. We're extremely optimistic that the community will feel this is their place to learn the things they want to learn.''
Far North Mayor John Carter — who was Hokianga county clerk when a farmer donated the site as an educational reserve — said the lease was great news for Rawene and the Hokianga.
"We know it's difficult to access educational and work opportunities in remote parts of the district, especially for our young people. That's why the campus is so important.''
By providing learning opportunities in Rawene, Te Puna o Kupenuku would enhance social cohesion and promote a more stable and vibrant community, Carter said.
Te Puna O Kupenuku was formed in 2018 by Te Waananga o Hokianga and Hokianga Community Educational Trust.
Facilitator Pani Hauraki said the organisation had procured a ''vibrant, youthful'' leader, Kay Harris, to set a unique learning environment.
Harris, a project manager from Kohukohu, started work on Monday.
The group wanted to create a new model of education rather than relying on an external provider coming in and telling Hokianga people what they wanted.
Te Puna O Kupenuku has received funding from the Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board and the Government's Covid Community Response Fund.