Three leaders share their vision for 2020

The hype-man of the Hurricanes is eyeing up the Super Rugby Championship, there’re changes afoot for the Wellington City Mission, and the wheels are spinning at Wellington City Council. Harriet Palmer talked to three local leaders about their vision for the future.

By Harriet Palmer
Photography by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #69
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Dream
chaser

At 33 years old, Dane Coles is the self-proclaimed “grumpy old man” of the Hurricanes.

The father of three boys collects music on vinyl and loves an early night. He remembers what rugby was like before social media, and is spending time on the couch resting his “old body”. So how does he find captaining a rugby team of kids born so recently they don’t even qualify as millennials?

“A lot of the young boys want everything straight away. It’s like mate, calm down,” he says. “It’s a young man’s game now and I just have to adapt, but I love it. Helping those boys and showing them what it means to be a professional rugby player. Making it enjoyable.” He says he was probably a “ratbag little shit” when he got his start in the Hurricanes in 2008, but pro rugby has made him a better person. He is very keen to impart this to new players – and he’s also very keen to see them win.

Coles’ vision for 2020 is to bring home the hotly contested Super Championship, something the team has only done once before, in 2016, the first year Coles was captain. He reckons it’s not really worth playing in the competition if you’re not serious about winning it.

Coles announced he was going to be an All Black to his parents in their Paraparaumu home at the age of five. He chased the dream until he made it in 2012. It took him 21 years. If anyone can claim to be able to turn a vision into a reality, it’s Coles. “It’s always the same vision for us. We want to do everything we can to win the championship. Even if it feels out of reach, you always need something to aim for.”

This year Coles is co-captaining the Hurricanes with TJ Perenara. It’s the first time the team has had joint captains, but it’s working well because the two players have different strengths – TJ is the “smarts”, Coles is the “hype-man”. He’s fairly low-key for a hype man – the figure who bounces around at hip-hop concerts stirring up the crowd. He does it his way – with a sense of humour and an unswerving commitment to the team. With the team of young players, Coles is a grumpy old sage, a bit of a dad. Coles tries to impart to all new players the Hurricanes’ deeply held values. “It’s more than rugby. We want these people to be good people. We want them to have a good work ethic, be respectful, and enjoy their footie.” The good person stuff is appealing, especially in an era where the influence of professional sports players is amplified by social media. Fans who used to hang over sidelines for a glimpse of their favourite players now have access to their private lives almost 24/7. And in the past there would be a write-up after the game, then it was yesterday’s news.

“Now it’s very different, you do one little muck-up or say the wrong thing on social media and it gets blown up. We have to put a lot of work into education. We know how it can affect people.” Coles has more than 80,000 followers on Instagram. He says he enjoys using it to talk to fans, to be a role model, and to advocate for charity. Fans are important, especially the “hard core staunch Hurricanes fans” that show up in whatever Wellington weather to see a team that could be winning or losing. Coles says “We try to do it for them.” Otherwise Wellington fans can be tough, especially over the last ten years, as “rugby has taken a hammering” with spectator numbers in decline.

Coles is hoping that earlier games will make a difference. He’s particularly happy with the few that kick off at 4pm. They will mean more sleep for him, and his oldest Jax, 5, will be able to see him play. “I can’t take my kids to 7 o’clock games. The next day wouldn’t be too flash.” And aside from rugby? Coles says his kids are his hobby. He likes to get them outside “where they are free”, take them into the bush or into the surf. He rates the Wellington outdoors, especially the walks and the diving. The family live close to the beach in Lyall Bay. Last season Jax played his first season of ripper for Coles’ club Poneke. This year he has asked to try soccer. “He hasn’t registered yet. As long as they are being active, doing something is all I really care about.” And there is that vinyl collection. Wife Sarah bought Coles a record player for his birthday 10 years ago and he hunts in record stores around the world. In Wellington he enjoys popping into Slow Boat Records and Rough Peel Music on Cuba St. He and Sarah play one a night from a collection that now numbers over 100. He loves the retro sound, and the way vinyl means you listen to whole albums and discover songs. Coles’ parents were lovers of soul and rock. They introduced their kids to music and it’s been a big part of his life. They also took him to rugby games at Athletic Park and the stadium. Coles has always been a supporter of the Hurricanes.

“I strove to get here for a long time and to be here for a decent stint is special.” He says he loves the highs and lows of rugby. “I still get a good feeling when I am able to turn up every day and earn my team mates’ respect, and work really hard.”

From vision
to reality

2020 is the year Murray Edridge’s vision will start to look like a reality. 

All going to plan, the head of the Wellington City Mission will see construction start this year on a new $20-million headquarters and social services centre, to be named Whakamaru. The development will transform an existing building in Mt Cook, which backs onto the gardens of Government House. The move from the City Mission’s current headquarters in central Newtown will bring it closer to the CBD – and to more of Wellington’s homeless community, which is growing after years of skyrocketing housing costs. The list of services Whakamaru will provide is long: 35 supported-living apartments for people who have endured chronic homelessness, a 120-seat café offering cheap and healthy meals for anyone who needs them, a social supermarket to replace the current foodbank, an alternative education school, a commercial laundry with free services for people on the street, and office space for staff and volunteers. 

Funding for the development has come from Wellington City Council, philanthropists, and business owners, including property developer Ian Cassels who recently pledged $10,000 from every home he sells for more than $800,000. If everything goes as planned, consents will be obtained and construction will begin in the second half of this year. Edridge wants to be walking through the door at the end of 2021. He says Whakamaru, meaning “to protect”, and “to provide shelter”, represents a new era for the City Mission, which has been helping the city’s most vulnerable people for more than a century. It will focus on three areas. The first is housing – “such a significant issue in Wellington.” The City Mission opened transitional housing for homeless people in Petone last year. It is looking at ways to work with commercial building developers to create more public housing. 

Next is food – the mission has always been a provider of food, Edridge says, but the way it’s done now is “not mana-enhancing” and people get food they don’t like or don’t know how to use. The social supermarket will mean people can choose their own food and have some help while they do it. His third goal is to harness the energy and support of the Wellington community – through volunteering. “I have a view that there are significant volunteering opportunities that we haven’t capitalised on yet. We bring in people now who are really skilled and capable and experienced and we get them chopping food and moving tin cans. Which of course needs to be done, but we are not taking advantage of all the skills people have and the experience they bring.”

Beyond these immediate ways of making a difference, Edridge has a bigger and longer-term vision. He wants to see a transformation in the way Wellington perceives people in need. “Lives matter just as much no matter what you have, who you are, or what you are going through,” he says. Utopian? Edridge thinks not. If any city can do it, he says, it’s Wellington. This isn’t the optimism of a recent arrival – Edridge was born in Wainuiomata and spent 35 years there before moving to Whitby. He loves the city. 

Before taking up the lead at the City Mission in 2018, Edridge had a long career. He started as an accountant in the power and gas industry, a far cry from social advocacy. He moved to the NGO sector after he became deeply concerned about “families and the lack of dads in our community” and spent eight years as the CEO of children’s charity Barnado’s. He also served as a Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of Social Development, but left after taking the blame for a data bungle. He says he was never really a good fit in Government. The move to the Mission feels good. Edridge is the first Missioner not to be an ordained Anglican priest, but he is a committed Christian. “I have inherited this thing – this organisation that is 116 years old – which means some of it is just awesome, but some of it feels like it has been here too long. For me, it’s about what do you do with something this iconic, with this much brand recognition? We have huge opportunities. I’m pushing quite hard. Nobody sleeps around here,” he half-jokes.  

He says Whakamaru will be a massive improvement for the Mission, and a manifestation of the way the City Mission needs to be. It’s his vision in bricks and mortar. “Whakamaru gives us the ability to create a community where there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’,” he says, “where all people can come to connect in a whole variety of ways and there is no judgment, no distinction.”

Ultimately, he says, the City Mission can do a lot more than serve people, as important as this work is. “The best thing we can do is help the community understand that for us to be successful as a society, we all need to share in that success. So, how do we support and facilitate the community to care for itself?” 

To deliver
visions

Barbara McKerrow, Wellington City Council’s brand new CEO, is very clear it’s not her job to have a vision for the city.

People often ask the chief executive about their vision, but the vision for the city is something the mayor and council and people of the city own. “I don’t think it’s about my vision,” she says. “My job as a CEO is not to reinvent our priorities but to actually gear this organisation up to a new phase in its life which is to actually really start to deliver. The city just wants to see some progress.” McKerrow is here not to reinvent the wheel, but to get the wheel moving. She is stepping into the role at a time everything seems to be going awry. There’s the shuttered library, the overflowing sewage, the empty Te Ngākau Civic Square, the bustastrophe. But she’s positive – and she’s already proven herself capable. In her eight years as the CE at New Plymouth District Council, she drove a metamorphosis. 

“New Plymouth started being recognised as edgy. It was named by Lonely Planet as one of the best places to visit in the world.” She says this came about because the city invested in itself, including $11.5 million on the impressive Len Lye Centre. Such projects boosted the confidence of the private sector, which started splashing money on hotels, restaurants, and cafes. But Wellington is more complicated than New Plymouth. We’ve already had the Lonely Planet shout-out, and the cafes are famously numerous. We moved from dull to colourful decades ago. “Wellington has already got a vibe. It’s more complex in that it’s a bigger place and the issues can be bigger and you are dealing with far more stakeholders, but the council has the capabilities, the framework is there.” 

McKerrow has a long list of projects and issues the city is tackling now, or will down the track. As well as Te Ngākau Civic Square, the Central Library, and the sewage system, she lists the convention centre, Let’s Get Wellington Moving and our transport network, resilient infrastructure, and the continuing aftermath of the Kaikoura Earthquake. There’s also the rising cost of housing, and population growth, climate change, and sea-level rise. 

It’s a long list, but McKerrow seems energized rather than daunted. She says while the library is a loss for the city, it’s also an opportunity to replace it with something that is “good for Wellington in the 21st century”. Some progress is already on track. She says the council’s transport programme Let’s Get Wellington Moving will ultimately lead to a better public transport system. There’s also a plan for the city to become carbon free, and soil has been broken at the convention centre site. 

She’s big on leadership and talks a lot about the capabilities that need to be nurtured within the council organisation. She wants to see everybody at the council “united by a common vision” and to have the tools they need to get things done. This is going down well. McKerrow was very popular in her previous role as the council’s Chief Operating Officer. A staff member told us, “She knows building a functional organisation is her job, and she is the best person at doing it I have ever worked with”.

McKerrow has been here three years, and this is her second stint in the capital. She and husband Barry came to Wellington as newlyweds in the 1970s. At the time she says Wellington was a grey government city, “a place you had to go to on your way from the North Island to the South Island.” It was not a place the young couple aspired to live in. But it surprised her. She says the people were open. They made friends and during years in Australia and New Plymouth, she remained fond of the place. “I had opportunities to work in other cities in New Zealand when I was looking for a change, but I chose Wellington as my preferred destination. If I were to live in a city anywhere in New Zealand this would be my choice.”

She likes the social scene and the creativity, the restaurants and the shows. She and Barry are out and about a lot, often with family. Her mum and their two sons remain in New Plymouth, but regularly take up residence in her spare room not far from the Brooklyn Wind Turbine. The family is very taken with the bird life: kaka frequently pass her deck and a karearea recently swooped over as the family was barbecuing. McKerrow doesn’t agree that Wellington has lost its buzz and its place as the country’s creative capital – a line Auckland marketers and television executives are spinning. She thinks the buzz still exists – “but we can’t take it for granted. It’s something we need to keep working on and that’s something I am keen on. The important thing is that we work in a deliberate way and that we take opportunities.” McKerrow envisions that the creativity which “permeates Wellington” will help the city address its challenges, from climate change to capital infrastructure. “There should be an imaginative and an artistic approach to the way that we do things. And we can’t forget that while we address all these issues, we still need to be talking about what this place is like to live in and the experience people have living here every day.”  

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