Jonathan Stockley, left and Darryl Judd on the Focus MKK committee.

Rather like a ‘community bucket list’, Focus Maraekākaho (Focus MKK) has a plan to enhance and improve local facilities in the thriving rural community located some twenty kilometres west of Hastings.  

This plan, developed in collaboration with the Hastings District Council, (HDC) is being carried out systematically, taking care of the local environment and people while ensuring the history and heritage of the area is preserved.

Maraekākaho is a strong farming community which in recent years has seen an increase in lifestyle residents, many with young families, and this influx of people is reflected in a growing roll at the local primary school. 

Focus MKK was formed in 2016, has a committee of eight elected representatives; current chairman is George MacMillan. I recently met a dynamic duo of committee members, Jonathan Stockley and Darryl Judd, to find out more about the group’s achievements and future plans.

Jonathan is the Hastings District Rural Community Board member for Maraekākaho and chair of the  Maraekākaho Church Hall Trust Board that looks after and runs the historic hall. He also drives one of the school buses. “I’ve got lots of community hats,” he tells me enthusiastically. “I simply love where we live, so none of it is a chore!”

Darryl, a well-known arborist and landscape architect, is an ‘ideas man’ and has been a fount of knowledge for establishing the right plants in the right places for many of the projects.

Darryl Judd (left) and John Ciurlionis put finishing touches to landscaping behind Hall. Photo credit: Jonathan Stockley

The historic Hall is the nucleus of the community. Thanks to a hugely helpful $132,489 grant from the Provincial Growth Fund for shovel-ready projects, it is getting an impressive upgrade – wiring is replaced, heat pumps installed, new lighting and a landscaping makeover. “It’s being brought up to a comfortable, modern standard, something that is expected nowadays,” says Jonathan.

The Hall, first built in 1877 (the existing supper room) and enlarged in 1897, is constructed from matai, totara and kauri. The building was gifted by Sir Donald McLean, owner of the historic Maraekākaho Station and was initially used as a public hall, a place of worship, the village school and a library. 

While the Hall survived the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, it is currently out-of-bounds for the adjoining school, as it doesn’t meet the updated earthquake standards required by the Ministry of Education. However, children, as well as everyone else, can safely attend the many community functions in the building.

One of the early and very successful Focus MKK projects was the installation of a recycling facility, now a well-used community asset. Another is safety improvements to Kereru Road with the provision of a limestone footpath and traffic-calming planting.

The group’s project to enhance the Maraekākaho War Memorial – with extensive planting, timber bollards to control parking and a historic story board – was supported by HDC and won the Landmarks History Award in 2019. The Cenotaph and War Memorial are sited at the intersection of SH 50 and Kereru Road and serve as an attractive entry point to the settlement.  

Now Focus MKK is working with HDC, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and Biodiversity Hawke’s Bay to enhance the environment and water quality in local waterways.

“Our long-term planting plans will help protect the health of the beautiful Ngaruroro River and our local feeder streams,” says Darryl. “The combination of riparian and legacy planting will help enhance local biodiversity and create corridors of native planting and will also reflect the rich history and heritage of our area.” 

Local resident, astronomer Graham Palmer, has seen further potential for the area with his Maraekākaho Dark Sky Project. Last month, his presentation to HDC was well-received.

“Preserving the darkness of our night sky has multiple benefits for human health, natural ecosystems and culture,” Graham explains. “As an astronomer, the night is a place of wonder and endless beauty. Sadly, sky glow from poorly designed outdoor lighting is slowly restricting access to this wonderful natural heritage. I hope this can be reversed by introducing new lighting design standards.” 

Fortunately, awareness is growing and some developers are already including lighting covenants on new rural developments. 

Jonathan tells me that Maraekākaho has become a fashionable destination for visitors from near and far. People drive out to enjoy great home-cooked food at the Chook and Filly, a fully-licenced country pub with a great reputation and also to sample and purchase a wide variety of beer on offer at Godsown Brewery.  Both businesses are located on SH 50 not far from the War Memorial turnoff. Another popular attraction is Kristen Lister’s Elevate Coffee Cart, parked up at the hall from 6.30 a.m. to 3.00 p.m.

Focus MKK’s ambitious plans are a great example of what can be achieved with hard work and community support. 

“Our Focus team was established by and from our community,” says Jonathan. “Everything we do is community-led and driven by the enthusiasm of so many locals. We simply couldn’t do anything without their help and support.”

View the full plan here.

You can also keep up to date with news on the group’s Facebook page Focus Maraekakaho

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