Our Wellington

News | 22 March 2021

Strengthening church to benefit community

When an Island Bay church was identified as earthquake-prone in 2012, the parish couldn't see a way forward. Now, after years of community discussion and hard work, a $10,000 grant is helping get the exciting restoration project across the line.

An artist's impression of the exterior of St Hilda’s Anglican Church in Island Bay.
Artist impression

“Back then, having an earthquake notice on our building was a very new thing,” says Rev. Mark Henderwood who manages St Hilda’s Anglican Church in Island Bay. 

“For a few years it wasn’t clear what the right decision was for the parish. Everything came with a price tag and it all seemed too difficult and too expensive.  

“We really didn’t want to be forced into a building project, but we were, even if that meant demolition.” 

The original building was constructed in 1930 with timber framing, lightweight cladding and a large unreinforced masonry façade facing the street. It’s the façade that now needs fixing. 

Mark’s family joined the church in 2014, a crucial time for decision-making.  

First they sought to rebuild the church community so it was viable, before tackling the strengthening project. 

“A seismic assessment completed in 2013 had led to an architect providing some preliminary drawings,” says Mark. 

Artist impression

“But within the church community, the predominant vision for the project only went as far as reinforcing the wall, and it wasn’t going to look pretty. 

“We felt that the industry was still developing and the standards were changing, so we weren’t inclined to rush into a quick solution.” 

After two years of review the church leadership and parish were able to reach a decision, to go ahead with making the wall safer and designing an attractive rebuild.   

Early in 2017 they employed a project manager, an architect and an engineer. However, the same month they got a letter from the Wellington City Council saying they had one year to fix the unreinforced masonry wall.  

The Unreinforced Masonry (URM) strengthening programme required building owners of certain buildings to take action to secure unreinforced masonry parapets and facades by the end of September 2018. 

The intention behind the initiative was to take a proactive approach to strengthening Wellington’s buildings so that the city would be better prepared for the possibility of further earthquakes or aftershocks following the November 2016 earthquake. 

This meant Mark and his team needed to move quickly, and find a solution everyone would be happy with - initially as a temporary fix to provide interim safety. 

“Thankfully we built up a fantastic relationship with the team at Wellington City Council. We discussed shipping containers, protecting the footpath, strengthening the wall. The engineer was able to complete a plan that everyone was happy with and then the Council paid half the bill for this work to be completed.” 

In 2020 the church was successfully awarded $10,000 of funding from the Council Building Resilience Fund. It allowed them to have a detailed seismic assessment and engineering design carried out of the building.  

Photo of Rev. Mark Henderwood who manages St Hilda’s Anglican Church in Island Bay.
Rev. Mark Henderwood who manages St Hilda’s Anglican Church in Island Bay.

Mark says keeping this venue open is extremely important for the community of Island Bay.  

During the week the church and hall are used for dance classes, garden club, toastmasters, games evening, there’s a playgroup, and various other kid’s groups. Every day after school the kids are in there.   

“We don’t have the money to do this work, we’ve had to borrow it with interest. 

“It will be a tough journey paying it back but we hope the community will get behind us in agreeing it’s a beautiful building that’s worth saving”.  

Currently working through the building consent process, Mark hopes the project will be completed this year. 

* Any building owner in the same position as Mark has until 31 March 2021 to apply for the Council’s Building Resilience Fund. This fund helps owners of non-heritage buildings with the cost or part-cost of a seismic assessment and design ahead of building strengthening. Find out more at: https://wellington.govt.nz/community-support-and-resources/community-support/funding/council-funds/building-resilience-fund