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Duo promotes fresh growth for Rose Centre

Flagstaff Team

Siobhan Yurak and Ann Langis, who met as Playcentre parents, are now leading a push to expand the role of Belmont’s main community venue. They tell Helen Vause about their vision for a vibrant community hub.

Ideas blooming… Ann Langis (left) and Siobhan Yurak are seeking input on developing the Rose Centre into a sustainable community hub

Between them, Siobhan Yurak and Ann Langis have a colourful history of life and work experiences that would do half a dozen people proud.

And together they’re a high-energy package raising a range of possibilities for what could soon be on the programme at the Rose Centre in Belmont.

New board chair Yurak and vice-chair Langis are set on expanding the centre’s performing-arts focus, making it more of a community hub.

They are seeking community input through a survey and say this is the time for people to come forward if they have a vision they’d like included in the mix.

“Right now we are asking the community how they would use the space. If we can accommodate it, if we can make it work, it could be a goer,” says Yurak.

She comes most recently from a human-resources role in the communications and marketing sector, after many years in hospitality. Before that, she’d had a decade or so as what she calls a junior “vagabond” on solo world adventures.

As a teen, Yurak came very close to a life on stage and set her sights on the National School of Ballet when she left school. When she missed out on selection, the very disappointed 17-year-old didn’t have a plan B and rather than settle for another course of study, she figured travelling the world would be her education.

Yurak, in her own words, is “a talker” and in colourful fashion she reels off the list of adventures a girl in her late teens had, travelling far away from home on the other side of the world. She sold encyclopaedias, worked in bars and cafes, and even recalls digging graves. She hitch-hiked everywhere she went.

Her travels lasted for a decade, sometimes running out of steam when there seemed to be nothing new in the offing. “At one stage I heard there was a great shortage of women and hairdressers in Alaska and I did actually get to hairdressing training,” she laughs. But she didn’t head off to Alaska.

She met her partner, North Shore local Miles Williamson, and a new life began running bars and hospitality ventures together. The couple have lived in many different addresses around the neighbourhood, from Devonport to Bayswater, and raised their children here.

“I decided I liked Bayswater best and we settled here,” laughs Yurak. “I also figured out hospitality, late nights and kids don’t really go together.

With the arrival of her children came the Playcentre years, a whole new group of women and kids, and among them a new friend, Ann Langis.

American-born Langis came with her partner to New Zealand 20 years ago on their OE, and is yet to move on.

“After 20 years in Bayswater, I guess I call it home,” says Langis, whose three children have also grown up here, each going through Narrow Neck Playcentre.

The seed for her future career was sewn early in her education in New York. She attended the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and at university studied subjects relating to child advocacy, going on to complete a masters degree in education policy from Harvard University. This provided the base for years of working with children and a lifelong interest in performing arts. Her passion is child advocacy, but she’s also a storyteller, and a public speaker.

Early in her career, Langis taught special-needs children, and through the preschool years of her own children had a decade of hands-on involvement with her local Playcentre. As her children grew up, she began thinking about developing a career around her skills.

Today, she has a business founded on her expertise in play-based learning.

Play provision for all ages is now a recognised as an important community goal for maximising physical, mental and social well-being, Langis says.

The latest addition to her play-based work is ‘Junky Monkeys’, which has had children in schools and workshops across Auckland learning how to upcycle and turn stuff that’s headed for the landfill into toys and temporary playgrounds.

“Back in our Playcentre days, we were full of ideas about what could happen around here for the community,” says Langis.

She and Yurak were two of a number of their local peers who saw that for Devonport and Takapuna people there were many public spaces and places, but felt the Belmont and Bayswater community was the poor cousin when it came to local hubs.

Back then, The Rose Centre, with its theatre amenities, hadn’t really entered their consciousness as a possibility for much wider use and appeal as a community hub.

But a public meeting revealed an opportunity for new blood at the centre. Yurak got involved and soon thereafter became board chair. Langis couldn’t resist being part of it and was soon involved too.

“There are many possibilities for what could happen here,’’ says Yurak. “ But whatever we do has to be sustainable and done well. Our vision is for a community hub for everyone around here that people can walk or bike to. A place people will want to come to and be part of all sorts of activities.”

The survey seeking community input closes soon, and this is the chance for anyone with an idea for the space to make a pitch, says Yurak. Meanwhile, as they scope the viability of proposals, there have already been a number of successful new moves: More than 100 local people packed in for free Matariki workshops, dinner and kids movies recently. Earlier in the year, the centre reached out to local food businesses and arranged for people to take their own containers to buy dinner for a shared evening meal.

“Our vision is for a community hub for everyone around here that people can walk or bike to. A place people will want to come to and be part of all sorts of activities.”

“It wasn’t a big crowd,” says Langis, “but it was the beginning of making more connection with the business community on these four corners right next door to us.”

“I see scope for lots more activity around zero waste,” says Langis, and floats the prospect of a regular ‘Repair Cafe’ for local people to come along and fix stuff together with a bit of guidance and encouragement.

With an eye to the teenage population, Yurak recently invited Takapuna Grammar School drama students to come and make use of the space. Now the school drama club is on-site every Monday and Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re right next door to them,” says Yurak, “and the small theatre is perfect for them to try out much smaller shows. We see this as just the beginning of bringing teenagers together here.”

The centre is still home to the Company Theatre and the Rose Singers, but there are thoughts of regularly bringing in a range of other performing-arts groups and shows from around the city.

Negotiations are underway and the community can expect new things, for a different demographic, coming soon to the Rose Centre Theatre.

“But right here around us in Bayswater and Belmont there are people with all sorts of talents and skills that they may be able to share with their local community. There are possibilities for specialised talks, workshops and groups,” says Langis.

“I believe that part of a community must be a space or place to go, where you can belong. It’s the concept of tūrangawaewae – having a space local people of any age can feel they belong to and can identify with. That’s what has been missing in this great Belmont and Bayswater community for years.”

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