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4 June 2019

Finally! A new office for New Zealand’s most isolated rugby union

After six years of planning and community support, the small team that keep rugby alive for New Zealand’s most isolated union will be able to move into their new office thanks to a final burst of support from Mitre 10 Gisborne.

Ngati Porou East Coast (NPEC) rugby union Chief Executive Cushla Tangaere-Manuel says it’s well overdue for her team to have an office that reflects the value of work done off-field for rugby in the region.

“The old office was an old Presbyterian Church and while it had 'good bones', it was clad with corrugated iron - freezing in winter and scorching in summer. We had to boil water to wash dishes and cook on a portable element - it was like camping!” she said.

With a team of three full-time staff – and another part-time position soon to be added – NPEC facilitates the needs of 700 registered players, nine clubs, seven representative teams, and all the high schools in the area. It’s a vast region: from Whangaparaoa in the north to Pouawa in the south is nearly 200km and a three-hour drive by road, with the NPEC office based in Ruatoria about halfway between.

Despite the Mitre 10 store still being under construction, and currently operating from a temporary location, it was clear that the project was a ‘must-do’ for Mitre 10 Gisborne owner operator Geoff Taylor after a trip to meet Cushla in Ruatoria.

“Rugby keeps the East Coast community connected. To travel up and see the old building that they’d been working in for so many years, we knew straight away we could help – rugby is valued highly here and NPEC should have an office building to match,” says Taylor.

With lots of community support and grants, the new office was built labour free by EIT apprentices last year, and a new fence was built by NPEC player and fencer Jack Richardson. Mitre 10 Gisborne has donated around $20,000 of materials for a new kitchenette, deck and concrete pathway, with Mitre 10 builder Stan Scott project managing the work. Local builder and NPEC team manager Lorne Goldsmith also volunteered his team from Launch Construction to support the build.

With the new kitchenette, deck and concrete path completed, there will only be two things for NPEC to tick off the list: new furniture and an official opening event, which will be very well-attended if local games are anything to go by.

Despite its condition, Tangaere-Manuel says the old office was a well-used, much visited community hub and that will continue.

“The kettle was always hot, biscuit tin always full and something was always cooking up. The principle of manaakitanga will remain in our new whare, only now with warmth and less risk of electrocution!"

While NPEC is New Zealand’s most isolated union and smallest union by player numbers and population base, games are still very well attended by spirited fans.

The annual pre-season Queen’s Birthday Weekend clash between Poverty Bay and NPEC is the best example, with around 2,000 people estimated to have attended this year’s event that also celebrated 20 years since NPEC last won the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship.