Street and food festivals, concerts, family events and art conventions ... there is no shortage of ideas after Whangārei District Council announced a new events fund that invites the community to bring forward ideas and tap into council's financial resources.
The Event Development Fund – part of the Whangārei Events Strategy 2019-24 – will provide one-off grants to groups, organisations and individuals to deliver new events for the district – at any time of the year and without official funding cap.
"The aim is to foster and develop diverse and innovative events for the district, which have the potential to become self-sustaining in future years," Whangārei District Council venues and events manager Carina de Graaf said.
"It could be for a sporting, cultural, business or creative event – as long as it provides an authentic local experience – then we want to hear about it."
De Graaf explained that an "authentic local experience" meant events created by within the district for the local community using the scope of skills presented in and around Whangārei.
Preference would be given to events organised by non-profit groups and to off-season events between April and October that could potentially attract visitors and entertain locals during quieter months.
"Having a calendar of events stretching through the whole year, not just the peak of summer, supports our local retail and tourism providers," de Graaf said.
WDC didn't want to comment on how big the annual budget for the events fund was, nor how much they were prepared to allocate per event.
"We don't want to restrict groups in their planning," de Graaf explained.
The announcement has been widely perceived as positive within the community, and organisations and stakeholders are already starting to brainstorm event ideas.
Dr Maggie Buxton, creative Whangārei-based producer who is currently co-organising the Joblab, was thrilled to hear about the funding scheme and hopes to activate more spaces through new events.
"It's exciting that WDC have been creative and proactive in dedicating resources for events. Up until now, the funding available was more general – this is quite different and very innovative. Council has picked up their new events strategy quickly."
Buxton said she knew of several people and groups who were equally excited by the announcement and would submit their ideas to council.
"Finally, we're able to do all the things we have been wanted to do for ages."
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Hinurewa te Hau, general manager at Creative Northland, has been working closely with the council on the Events Strategy and said the council was now working more effectively with the community.
"It's good that council are investing to allow people to experience what local looks like. Local experiences are important because it's about connecting people from the district with each other. If we're not careful, others will come in and organise stuff that might wear us out – it's about our people and our sense of place."
Scarlet-Rose Woller, Whangārei-based musician and events manager at Butterfactory, also welcomed the new funding announcement.
"The district needs that sort of input because it's dying when it comes to events – especially music and arts events. Music brings people together and creates a good vibe."
She said local musicians didn't have much opportunity to perform in their hometown, which was a shame. Woller, like many other Whangārei musicians, travels to Paihia or Auckland to play a gig.
She said bringing more bands to Whangārei would attract many people and could foster a better music culture.
"Council also needs to back venues that want to create events because they sometimes make it impossible for us to organise anything."
Woller said the council was too focused on using Forum North as a venue and would rather see different spaces being used for events.
In reply, de Graaf said that kind of thinking was changing within the council; however, public safety and health had to be ensured.
"We're always encouraging events, and we're also trying to explore spaces where we haven't had events before."
Not only event themes like music and arts were discussed by groups, but also events that cater to specific groups.
Ryan Donaldson, Youth Space acting general manager, said the fund was quite timely for the organisation as they had been talking about bringing back a youth week.
"We had a youth week quite a few years ago, and we have been talking about bringing it back. With extra support from the council, we could make the event better, brings acts on stage and engage more people," Donaldson said.
"It's also an opportunity to re-energise the CBD, which is a place where young people want to hang out. There is scope to make something cool out of it and bring new life into Whangārei."
Northern Advocate subscribers on Facebook submitted their own ideas for new events:
Donna Roy Brickell said she would love to see light installations in Mair Park.
Mary Ann Arkinstall would like to have a beer and food festival with "decent music and reasonable prices".
Reuben Williams suggested a Cameron St festival similar to CubaDupa in Wellington.
• To find out more about the Whangārei Event Development Fund and Events Strategy, visit wdc.govt.nz/PlansPoliciesandBylaws/Plans/Pages/events-strategy.aspx.
• Apply online for funding at wdc.govt.nz/funding.
What do people want?
We spoke to people on the streets of Whangārei to hear what sort of events they would like to have in the district.
"I would love see more festivals happening here. We have a huge Māori population here so it would be great to incorporate different cultures. Festivals keep people in their own town and bring more business to business owners."
"Anything really. We've got plenty of facilities here. I'd like to have more sport, food and music events and get more bands coming up to Whangārei – Northlanders like music."
"It would be cool to have more family events pop up. And I haven't heard much about live music around here – it would be good to have more musicians come and play, even with an open stage to invite the community to participate."
"Big shows from Auckland should come up here. We lived down in Ashburton and there used to be more than up here. They should also advertise events more."
"It would be good to have some big events come to Whangārei. At the moment you have to go to Auckland. And a variety of festivals and bands would be good. Although activating the town is quite difficult with the strict liquor laws."
"My passion stems from graffiti art – I see the most potential in that. More cultural events, especially throughout winter when it's too cold to go the beach would also be good."