We all know what goes on at Community House – it’s a bunch of do-gooding people, doing good – right? Well, maybe we don’t know as much as we think!  On the hunt for a JP last year, to my surprise I ended up here and discovered a real hub of our community, just buzzing! It was time to chat to Manager, John Driscoll, and see what other unknowns I might uncover!

And there are plenty! During the five or so minutes I wait for John, a steady stream of people come in; a farmer needing a JP to sign paperwork (he didn’t know about that either!), someone needing help from Citizens Advice, two ladies delving into the book exchange bins and a MoleMap client.

Community House has full time reception cover, so whatever you’re looking for, they’ll happily point you in the right direction. There’s also a photocopying and laminating service available for a small fee and scanning available free of charge.  John tells me there are currently 24 permanent tenants, and as many more casual. They have 25,800 people through the doors every year looking for help and information – no wonder I thought it was a busy place! 

In addition, they have three meeting rooms, two with projectors, available for night and evening use, and they’re in constant use as well. There’s also a community van available for community groups, donated by KFC Haskett family. “We’re incredibly grateful to Altrusa, the Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, and Zonta, and many funders. We have an amazing community,” he says.

Community House was originally started in 1995 by May Greenslade as a resource centre for non-government agencies to provide a hub for social service groups in Ashburton. Sounds impressive. What it actually means is that non-profit organisations such as Safer Mid Canterbury, Birthright Canterbury, Senior Citizens, CCS, Dementia Canterbury and many others have a permanent base in a community-focused facility.  

Once John starts, he’s hard to stop. “We changed the name from Ashburton Resource Centre about 12 years ago,” he smiles. “We used to have people calling up and asking what time the dump opened! Anyway, long story short (he’s not good at that either), we always had cups of tea and scones at our board meetings, so I waited until the ladies had their mouths full of scone, and I passed a motion to change the name to Community House Mid -Canterbury. It was seconded and a done deal before they could speak!”

The day-to-day operation of Community House is overseen by a board of trustees, all of whom volunteer their time. They meet once a month and all have portfolios to look after. The over-riding requirement, John says, is that they have compassion.

This place is John’s passion.  “My role as manager is to be as involved as possible in the community and to keep the service growing and developing. Last year we were successfully in getting Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) in here. We used to get people in asking what to do for their marriage breakups so it’s fantastic to have CAB here giving advice that is solid, for all manner of problems, personal, employment, whatever.”

There are also a couple of self-managed services – a food pantry out the front – an idea John saw on a trip to Westport. “There was a fridge on the side of the road with a sign on it, so I had to check it out. I thought, “We could do that in Ashburton!”  Marie from County Lions and Rotary also had the idea, so we all pitched in, PlaceMakers always look after us with whatever we need, the Menz Shed built the cupboard for us, and it works.”  The six book bins around town operate in a similar fashion. The theory is that Rotary load them up, and people usually put one back, again, it seems to work,” he says.

Back to my need for a JP. “There’s a regular clinic available from midday until 2pm every Tuesday and Friday, for the signing of documents. They have over 1,000 documents signed in a year!”

John’s very proud of Community House – not just the services offered but the building too. “We own this building – the Ashburton community does – and that makes us quite unique in that we are a trust, and we own the building. We also have very good support from businesses around town. As soon as you say Community Trust, they look after you. I always say we haven’t got any money,” he laughs. “We’re not that hard up, but it reminds people that we’re worth supporting.”

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.