The creation of Tirohanga - the Houchen Wellness Space is the story of a family’s legacy to their community being able to flower to its full potential, thanks to a smart partnership between two innovative local organisations.
Tirohanga, located in Glenview on the south-western edge of Kirikiriroa-Hamilton, is a place of peace and calm where people can restore themselves to wellness and get support to rejuvenate.
'The Lounge' at Tirohanga - Houchen Wellness Space.
It has been established and is operated by Wise Group, in partnership with Momentum Waikato, the guardian of the Houchen family’s vision for the site.
Wise Group’s Operations Manager Erana Severne says Tirohanga is a first, delivering wellness services in a way that hasn’t been done before.
“Healing is the cornerstone,” says Erana, “Tirohanga is a healthy and safe environment to find a sense of belonging and connection.
“Sometimes you just feel overwhelmed, so we take it back to the basics of well-being, free of judgement. You have mana and were born with mana, here is place for you to heal yourself.
“There is no treating people like numbers or problems to solve. The team here is all about manaaki tangata, the wairoa of the space.
“We have become a fragmented society with so many lonely people, we don’t speak to our neighbours anymore. We need to knit together the social fabric.
“The beauty of Tirohanga is that it was co-designed with the community, the voices of local people told us what they wanted, how it could serve them, it was not designed by ‘those who know best’.
“We want to show a different way of working, to flip the health model on its head, by building more wellness spaces in other communities, but this is not a one-size-fits-all model, the mix of services and priorities on offer has to be set by local people,” says Erana.
Services being offered at Tirohanga include a Māmā and Pēpi space, a delightful retreat for mothers and their young babies; meditation and movement classes in a light and airy studio; therapies and counselling; and community learning and development workshops.
Inside the Māmā and Pēpi house.
‘Here to Help U’, the Wise Group’s phone and web-based support service, was set up at Tirohanga as a Covid response early in 2020. That move delayed the development of the estate into its long-term wellness role, but the availability of the buildings to host the call centre was critical to it being established.
The service has now helped 150,000 people and is going from strength to strength, with branches now popping up in other locations. Erana smiles and quotes Winston Churchill – "Never let a good crisis go to waste”.
A ‘Seed to Plate’ program based around the site’s flourishing garden and well-equipped kitchen shows people how to grow and cook their own food.
“Our grounds here are unique, we often have comments that it feels like we are out in the country,” says Erana.
“Our guests visit the gardens to reflect and pause. Kaumatua walk the paths, have a cup of tea and connect.”
The Houchen family started farming on the south-western outskirts of Hamilton in 1922. The five-acre retreat was carved off from the farm and established with a trust by the Houchens in the 1980s, as a place for priests to rest and study.
By the 2010s such visitors were infrequent and community usage was patchy, so the current generation were looking for a way to step back from governing the property while ensuring it continued to benefit the community, ideally in an expanded and coordinated fashion.
New gardens at Tirohanga, with the original Houchen Retreat sign.
Momentum then looked for a partner to establish run an appropriate wellbeing-focused operation at the grounds, and soon inked a deal with Wise Group, who were looking for a suitable site to pilot their vision for developing wellness spaces for local communities.
Momentum Chief Executive Kelvyn Eglinton says the partnership with Wise Group at Tirohanga is a perfect fit.
“We’re really pleased with what the Wise Group has achieved at the Houchen family’s former Retreat, and are looking forward to developing more wellness spaces across the Waikato,” says Kelvyn.
For Wise Group, which has numerous community support services, Tirohanga is a big deal and a big commitment, taking up much of its innovation budget, but with the confidence that this initiative will be changing people’s lives for the better for decades to come.
For Momentum, the transformation of the Houchen Retreat into Tirohanga models the key roles it exists to play as a community foundation – to provide the means for ordinary people to create a lasting legacy for their community, and to drive transformational projects for the region.
For Erana, Tirohanga is an exciting opportunity to realise her own vision for how good health and well-being need to be delivered.
“I came to Wise Group because of Tirohanga, this place is a pocket of excellence, a different way of doing things, making a positive difference in people’s lives, that’s really exciting.”