After nearly nine years, work has begun on a $2.1 million wharekai a local marae hopes will be the heart of the community.

In 2010 the trustees at Te Koutu Marae identified a need to build a new wharekai as the existing building was not of a good standard. Two years ago the wharekai became unusable and no longer met the needs of the people so it was demolished.

Last week everyone from kura kaupapa pupils to elders who have witnessed the marae grow were in attendance as a karakia blessed the whenua which will hold the new building.

That first signs of building. Photo / Leah Tebbutt
That first signs of building. Photo / Leah Tebbutt

Long-time resident Kingi Biddle, who led the formalities, said it was an opportunity to bring families with whakapapa and Koutu links together.

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"This marae has a special place in our hearts, so it was an opportunity to bring those families back and reminisce but also to be able to take part with the next generation of this marae.

"Today was about the protocol of the people but it was also about the protocol of the heart."

Organisations like Ngāti Whakaue Assets Trust, Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust and Ngāti Whakaue Tribal Lands provided the funding for the wharekai project.

However, the biggest funding agent came from the new Oranga Marae Funding provided by Te Puni Kokiri and the Department of Internal Affairs.

Crowds gather for the blessing of the whenua. Photo / Supplied
Crowds gather for the blessing of the whenua. Photo / Supplied

The total build, including consents, architectural designs, engineering and construction will cost $2.1 million.

Lauren James, who helped facilitate the fundraising said $1.5m was gifted to the marae in November last year.

"It was a real yahoo moment."

She said a big part of Māori communities was being able to cater and host people and the new build meant they could meet tribal obligations.

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"We're excited about out tribal members and people of the community being able to make memories in there."

However, it would not be possible without the contribution of the tribal members who supported through a Facebook fundraiser page or set up automatic payments to help the marae.

"We've been on this journey for about 10 years but it has only been in the past six months, particularly with the change with the Oranga Marae, that our marae has been able to see the build as a reality."

Te Koutu Marae is one of the many Ngāti Whakaue marae in the Rotorua area.

The area was previously used by the Ngāti Whakaue people of Ohinemutu as communal gardens.

Those who tended the gardens built a shelter at Te Koutu to protect them from the rain and that was the beginning of the Te Koutu community.

The wharenui, which opened in 1928, is named Tumahaurangi and he is the brother of Whakaue-Kaipapa the eponymous ancestor of Ngāti Whakaue.

The marae has been used for a number of purposes, including as a church, sporting club and for education.

Both Te Kura o Te Koutu and Rotorua's first kohanga reo were established at Te Koutu Marae.

Construction of the new wharekai will begin on February 17 and is expected to take 35 weeks.

Treasurer for the trustees Dean James said the marae was there for anyone in the community.

He said the marae had always been seen as the heart of the Te Koutu community - Te Mānawa o te whānau, hapū me te hapori (the heart of family, tribe and community).

"We are so lucky we have a diverse community but we do get a bit of a bad rep. But I am thinking we have to have the infrastructure to support families.

"There is some affluence here but there is a lot of hardship as well. I think having a community hall and wharekai, we will be able to support the community better."

Te Puni Kōkiri Acting Toihautū Di Grennell said Oranga Marae is more than just investing in marae buildings sharing that the wellbeing of the Marae has much to do with the whare as it does with whānau.

"Oranga Marae invests in both the physical development as well as cultural development of the marae,"

"Marae often benefit the wider communities in times of civil emergencies like during the Edgecumbe floods and the Nelson fires. Te Puni Kōkiri is currently working with two marae in the Tasman region who are supporting emergency efforts now."