Alpha to serve again

Alpha plan gets an A

9 March 2023 –

The News’ exclusive last week revealing plans to reopen Kihikihi’s Alpha pub as a community centre has the district buzzing.

It had reached closed to 9000 online hits earlier this week – making it the most viewed Te Awamutu News story, and placed it third on Good Local Media’s all-time list.

Roy Pilott’s story told how building owner and former National MP Arthur Anae had decided to allow the building to be used permanently as a community venue, and the only payment required could be the rates.

A community group has now set about working on the 150-year-old pub and it has plans to see it functioning as a gathering place and education centre.

The man who Arthur Anae said was the best person to lead the way,  Ngāti Apakura kaumatua Bill Harris, said the story had generated good feedback from both individuals and businesses.

One Waipā company was Viking Glass, which made contact with The News the day the story appeared, saying they wanted to help.

Bill Harris said it was great to have trade companies taking an interest in the project.

Work this week has included bringing more power into the building and  checking some of equipment in the Alpha.

Harris said community engagement was a key to the success of the venture.

Margaret Johnson and Bill Harris outside the Alpha Hotel. Photo: Roy Pilott

Kihikihi’s Alpha Hotel is being primed to reopen as a community hub – more than 150 years after residents first flocked to it.

A community group has been working in and outside 1 Lyon Street following a generous offer from its owner to allow it to be used free of charge in perpetuity.

The only payments required will be the rates.

Former National MP and Auckland city councillor Arthur Anae told The News he had wanted to put the old building to good use for some time – and it was timely that he was approached by Ngati Apakura kaumatua Bill Harris.

As the Alpha looked in the early 1900s. Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library.

The Alpha was opened in 1867 and the double storey extension which now exists was added 15 years later. The 1074 square metre hotel is registered by the Historic Places Trust as a Category Two building.

It stopped serving patrons in about 2007 and has spent time as a second-hand furniture shop – and less obviously, a house of ill repute – evidenced by the removal of a large number of mattresses during the clean-up.

Anae, who also owns the closed Oxford Hotel in Tirau, is gifting the lease of the Alpha to the Kihikihi community for as long as it is used for the community – and an education trust which he has established and will be advised of his wishes.

He said Harris, was the “right man” for the job of opening the building to the community again. The former psychiatric nurse at Tokanui chairs the Ngāti  Apakura Runanga Trust and is Te Kanohi iwi representative on the Waipa District Council Service Delivery Committee.

Harris was given good news last week when an engineering and electrical report confirmed the Alpha – was in sound condition.

Its rimu bones are strong, and despite being shut for some time is in remarkably good condition inside. Since being closed part of the building has had a caretaker and its alarm system remain plugged in.

Harris believes cats can take some credit for keeping rats and birds at bay.

He gave The News a tour of the Alpha last week – starting with a kitchen and dining area which will be the first to be opened. It is the newest part of the Alpha and will eventually serve as a Pataka – a food bank.

The old bars are still in place – one has a Te Awamutu Rowing Club oar above the counter –  but under the present plan the Alpha has served its last alcoholic beverage.

An elegant room – but painted black – had served most recently as a gaming lounge and Harris noted his parents had worked in there when it was a kitchen and dining area.

Upstairs the accommodation area is old and worn – and missing doors and wallpaper, but as with the ground floor, it’s solid.

The group behind the project includes representatives from surrounding communities and trusts.

The Department of Corrections has also provided labour to assist with the clean-up and to remove items.

An existing fire escape is being removed and an internal stairwell will be reshaped to enable access from near the front entrance – and the remaining chimney will also be removed.

Harris discussed the plans with members of the Te Awamutu-Kihikihi Community Board last week.

Chair Ange Holt said it would be great to see the Alpha getting a new lease on life rather than appearing as a derelict building and it was “super good” that there was no requirement to pay for it.

The update also prompted Cr Lou Brown to congratulate Harris.

Harris hopes the community hub will become a destination for education programmes and perhaps a place for people to come for a Sunday roast.

“But we won’t try to run before we can walk,” he said.

News of the work at the Alpha is spreading and Harris said there were already offers of help coming in – “people can see this will be beneficial”.

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