Connecting Hearts: The Revitalisation of Coppard Reserve in Leithfield Village
Nestled along the banks of the Kowai River lies Leithfield Village, a service hub founded in 1857 for the surrounding rural and milling communities. At the heart of the village lies the Coppard Reserve—a place where the spirit of community now thrives. Through conversations with Vanessa Nelmes, the Community Partnerships Coordinator at Hurunui District Council, and Jo Hassall, an active member and Chair of the Leithfield Community Centre, we learn more about how this once overlooked space has been transformed into a cherished community hub.
Uniting for a Shared Vision
The journey towards the revitalisation of Coppard Reserve began when the Leithfield Community Centre, initially established to oversee the community hall, evolved into a platform for residents to share ideas and aspirations. Jo Hassall, a driving force behind the community centre, recognised the importance of encouraging locals’ involvement and keeping them well-informed. With each meeting and mailbox run, more residents joined the conversation, and the email list grew to around 70 people.
Early discussions about the park revolved around creating history boards to showcase the heritage of the reserve. The original spark for this idea was from a local primary school pupil, and locals curated the story and graphics for the history boards. Though it took three years to bring the idea to fruition, these efforts sparked a renewed sense of community connection and engagement in the reserve.
From Small Wins to Big Dreams
During these early endeavours, Jo began to envision a more extensive revitalisation of the reserve. Seeking input from the community through mail drops, she received valuable suggestions, including a request for a basketball court and cross trainers that both teenagers and older adults could use. The project required amending the reserve’s management plan, a potentially daunting process, but with Vanessa’s assistance, the public consultation and feedback collection proved successful.
The Power of Community Engagement
Vanessa emphasised that the key to this progress was ensuring that the community were listened to during the consultation period, and that their final submission was well represented.
“We did get stalled a little bit along the way, with our local government operating in a post-covid recovery space it. It was important through the long timeline to stay in touch with the community, keeping them well informed throughout the process.”
Overcoming Challenges and Nurturing Support
It was while progressing through the approval process, that Jo encountered initial scepticism about the availability of grants. Undeterred, she pursued various funding avenues, adopting a “you don’t get if you don’t ask” mindset. This dedication bore fruit when the Rātā Foundation generously funded the entire basketball court and three cross trainers, amounting to $61,500. Jo emphasised that communities should not be deterred by formalities of the application processes and encouraged using plain language.
“It’s important that communities take the first steps towards helping themselves. Councils only have so much money, but if they see your efforts and you ask for guidance through their processes, they are often happy to jump in and help. The process can feel like it takes forever, but this is the time to stick to your guns and rally the community from consultation, through any funding hurdles. Council can give lists of places you can apply to, and also help with funding applications.“
The Transformation and Beyond
With funding secured, the community sprang into action. Volunteers undertook the installation of the basketball hoop and cross trainers, making use of their skills and resources. The removal of hedge to bring in more natural light was huge task undertaken by local residents, in accordance with the Council’s health and safety requirements. The entranceway received a facelift, using soil from the area to create mounds for planting. The transformation of the reserve attracted increased foot traffic, with families and visitors enjoying the new facilities and general ambiance.
Lessons Learned and Sharing the Journey
Jo emphasised the importance of perseverance and patience when collaborating with Councils, as their processes can be time-consuming. She encourages communities to stay the course, maintain open communication, and seek help from the Council when needed. By sharing her experiences and resources with other community groups, Jo supported them to learn by doing, to navigate the application processes and secure funding for their own projects.
A Bright Future and Ongoing Collaboration
Coppard Reserve’s revitalisation journey continues with evolving ideas, such as the potential inclusion of a herb garden, while preserving ample green space. The community’s enthusiasm and dedication has created a vibrant and well-utilised hub, fostering a sense of ownership and connection among residents.
The story of Coppard Reserve’s revitalisation serves as a testament to the power of community-led development, of perseverance, and collaboration. By nurturing a shared vision, seeking support, building connections and using the assets that already exist in their place, Leithfield Village has created a space that reflects its unique heritage and meets the diverse needs of its residents. As other communities embark on their own revitalisation projects, the lessons learned from this journey provide valuable insights and inspiration.