Restoration dream realised in Raetihi gallery

When Anthea Hatfield and Bernice Frost started out on their conservation project to give their 1911 former bank building a new life as an art gallery, little did they know it would lead to a heritage award.

Anthea says she is a dreamer and when she dreams, she dreams big. Her and Bernice’s efforts over many years have resulted in both a beautiful gallery for their community, and the Rangitikei and Rural Heritage Award at the inaugural Whanganui Regional Heritage Trust Heritage Awards in 2020.

On Sunday 11th July 2021 New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Chief Executive Andrew Coleman, a judge at the 2020 awards, unveiled the blue heritage plaque sponsored by the organisation for the building, with many locals attending the event. Those involved demonstrated esteem for the building and the strong commitment of many New Zealanders in smaller towns to caring for their heritage places. “I was very proud to represent us at the event and to officiate at the unveiling,” said Andrew.

The striking former BNZ building was designed by notable Wellington architect, Joshua Charlesworth. It was the first bank in the Waimarino County and was a survivor of the great 1918 fire in Raetihi. The bank closed in 1996 and was sold to private interests.

Bernice Frost first purchased the building with some friends to prevent it being turned into a ski lodge or something similar. Over time three owners opted out of the project, and Anthea Hatfield bought in. “As we walked out of the bank there was just Bernice and myself and I said “Bernice, we own the whole thing now, let’s do it. Let’s pursue our dream”.

It has been hard work to give the building a new look as an Art Gallery. The local community have been right behind Anthea and Bernice in their objective. At the time the Arts Trust Gallery opened in the former bank two years ago Anthea Hatfield said she had a dream of making Raetihi the best town in New Zealand. “If I had the money, I’d do the whole town” she said. It is also her hope that more listed heritage buildings can be achieved in Raetihi.

David Watt.