After a 20-year battle a former polytech campus is finally back in community hands.
Local education advocates have campaigned since the early 2000s for a say in the courses offered at Rawene's NorthTec campus.
More recently, since the Whangārei-based polytech abandoned the campus around 2017, they've fought to have the complex returned to the people of South Hokianga and brought back to life as a community-run education centre.
Their determination paid off on Saturday when more than 100 people gathered to celebrate the reopening of a campus that had once appeared doomed to dereliction.
Janine McVeagh, one of the founders of Te Puna o Kupenuku, a group set up to run the campus, said it felt ''absolutely amazing''.
''The community really is taking it over as a community education space, and that's what we wanted.''
Te Puna o Kupenuku was not a training provider but would manage the campus on behalf of the community for whatever it wanted in the way of education.
''There's already some exciting stuff happening, which is very different from what you might see happening in your usual education facility.''
McVeagh hoped it would mean people wouldn't have to leave Hokianga to get an education. It would also provide jobs for people with teaching skills and open up opportunities in fields such as building, IT and the arts.
Kaiarahi (leader) Kay Harris said the campus was already being used by Hokianga Recording Studio, a waka group, a ''foamcrete'' building course, a school science programme, a native plant nursery, rural water supply training, a food guild, cheese-making workshops, counselling and zumba.
Raranga (weaving) and organic gardening courses were due to start this week and Te Wananga o Hokianga was planning courses in construction, te reo and tikanga.
''The plan is to make it available to the community for the different kaupapa they want to bring here. It's very much up to them,'' Harris said.
''They're really enthused and invigorated. They determine what happens here and they want to bring as much as possible to this space. It's a great example of rangatiratanga in action.''
A name for the facility had yet to be chosen.
Te Puna o Kupenuku committee member Jackie Davidson helped establish the original campus in the 1980s.
At the time the government ran temporary work schemes to counter the area's high unemployment.
''They were all sorts of dead-end jobs so a group of us put together a workskills development programme that cost the same amount of money but could form an economic base for Hokianga. People could get paid while learning useful skills and developing useful infrastructure.''
The government agreed and the group set up a training nursery under ecologist Vince Kerr, which was soon supplying Rawene Hospital with fresh fruit and vegetables as well as growing native and subtropical plants and running a forestry operation.
It operated successfully for years ''until Rogernomics whipped the economic rug out from under everyone's feet''.
Around that time the site was leased to Whangārei Community College, which later evolved into NorthTec.
When NorthTec walked away three years ago the Far North District Council had planned to put the lease out to tender, Davidson said.
Records proving the land had been gifted for educational purposes had been lost in a fire but Far North Mayor John Carter, who was Hokianga county clerk in the 1980s, knew the site's history and supported Te Puna o Kupenuku's plans.
Eventually councillors voted unanimously to lease the site to the group for a nominal $1 a year.
Councillor John Vujcich, who was among the speakers on Saturday, paid tribute to the women who were determined to take the site back for the community.
He said the facility would also be more more viable if it was used by a variety of providers, not just one.