NHNZ is a Fernhill community neighbour that should be treasured

Attendance at the annual meeting of the Fernhill Community Group was small this year.

Maybe 20. The monthly meetings, despite the presence of guest speakers, draw even fewer. I proudly hold the record for least-attended guest speaker. I drew nine.

I pretty much always go. It is just up the road, and just between you and me, I would quite like to lose that record. I dream of a night when there is snow, body-spinning winds and two armed prisoners on the loose.

Our community group, were it likened to television, and heavens to Betsy, most things are these days, is more The Vicar of Dibley than The Sopranos.

Small things are discussed by a loyal little band of people every month, a nice supper is put on free. The Deaf Society rooms in Manor Pl where we meet are always warm.

Before we moved into the area, many thousands of dollars were raised to improve the area, the Market Reserve most notably. An enormous number of trees have been planted.

The speakers have been always interesting, often captivating.

Master milliner Lindsay Kennett has spoken twice, riveting reminiscences both of a wide-eyed boy in Glenorchy developing a passion for women's fashion by running down to meet the boats at the wharf to see what the visiting women were wearing, excitedly making drawings of them all. And from that came a career in hats, touching Royalty even. Until the arrival of the dreaded hairdressers ...

Daniel Belton showed his extraordinary dance films, his mother Robyn talked about illustrating children's books and drew as she spoke.

I have learned of consumer rights, life in a barbershop quartet and how to smuggle drugs into the country.

I go to each meeting out of loyalty to a very small group of people who are doing a wonderful job for where we live, and I always come home, date loaf and Bell tea in the belly, feeling better.

Michael Stedman of NHNZ spoke at the annual meeting earlier this month, flying back early from Wellington to make it in time. He is, as he pointed out, our new neighbour, with NHNZ now ensconced in their impressively refurbished high-atrium building at the bottom of Melville St. Mr Stedman said he wanted to be a good neighbour.

He found someone fossicking for scrap metal in a skip one night when they were ripping the building apart. The NHNZ head wished him well. The next day the guy called in and asked if a message could be passed on to thank the person who did not turn him in the night before.

On another occasion, one of the less fortunate members of the Fernhill community walked in and asked if anyone could give him a ride to High St.

A ride was arranged.

Hardly anyone at our meeting had any idea just how big, how successful and how crushingly important to Dunedin NHNZ actually is.

Mr Stedman outlined achievements, showed videos and explained how far ahead of the play they have to be to just survive, let alone lead the television documentary world from a city like Dunedin.

Offices dotted all over the world - China, South Africa, Singapore and America - now have shelves and glass cases clogged with prestigious awards, from Emmys on down.

It is an astonishing story, where story-telling has been the key, the icy indifference of TVNZ to their product an ironic blip, the only question that stopped Mr Stedman in his tracks that night. He spoke persuasively and easily, he used one of my very favourite words, mustelid, and then departed into the night, no time for supper, always things to do.

Last Friday morning, when I walked past the NHNZ building, the whole workforce was out in the car park, a lone siren wailing mournfully. I ran my eye over our new neighbours, they were an awful lot of people. Dunedin should treasure them, they are very special.

• Roy Colbert is a Dunedin writer.


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