Rawene church building restored and now up and running

A landmark historic building in Rawene, which has been brought back from the brink of decay and restored to life, hosted its first community engagement recently.

Rawene Church with crowd out front.
Members of Heritage Northland Inc. gather at the former Methodist Church in Raweneexpand/collapse

The Category 2-listed former Methodist Church opened its doors to a meeting of Heritage Northland Inc. volunteers whose first order of business was to acknowledge the restoration work undertaken on the building by recognising the owners’ work and commitment with an official Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga plaque.

The meeting of the heritage volunteers marked the first time the building has been used since work began on it over two years ago.

“The plaque marks the heritage significance of the building and is a small acknowledgement of the hard work and dedication that owners Lynn Lawton and Linda Blincko have invested into this building,” says Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Northland Manager Bill Edwards.  

“The result is a church that was only recently falling into disrepair, but which has now been repurposed as a beautiful residency for creatives to develop and to showcase their work, and a facility for community groups to meet. This transformation means that the church building continues to make its unique contribution to the streetscape of Rawene while also retaining its very close links to the community.” 

Auckland playwright Geoffrey Clendon will be the first creative in residence who will stay in the building during October when he will undertake research and begin writing a play ‘Te Whawhai Taake Kuri – The Dog Tax War’. While in Rawene Geoffrey will carry out archival research from documents at Clendon House – which is cared for by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, and which was the home of his tupuna James Reddy Clendon.  

The play will reflect on the dog tax, which was introduced in the 1890s, and was fiercely resisted by Māori in the Hokianga and culminated in a standoff in 1897 that almost escalated into full-blown conflict between government troops and Māori at Waima. The situation was de-escalated at the last minute by Māori Members of Parliament.  

Papers at Clendon House include first-hand accounts written by members of Geoffrey Clendon’s whānau including Thomas Millar, postmaster at the time, and George Clendon both of whom were integrally involved. The residency will also enable Geoffrey Clendon, who descends from tupuna on both sides of the conflict, to kōrero with local historians and whānau. 

The kauri-clad church stands a stone’s throw from the character-rich town centre of Rawene. It was built from native timbers in 1876 for the sum of £160 by notable builder William Cook.  

The opening service was conducted in te reo Māori, reflecting the strong connection the Wesleyan Mission had with local Māori in what became the Hokianga circuit. 

Decayed wood has been replaced by kauri timber sourced from a mill in Northland – a reflection of the attention to detail that the owners have taken with the restoration. The two distinctive belfries have also been returned to the front and rear of the building, as well as elements like the church’s turned wooden finials which are over a metre long.  

The restoration project was supported by a grant from the National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund – a fund for significant heritage buildings in private ownership, administered by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.  

“The former Methodist Church in Rawene is a wonderful asset for Northland and will add to the already buzzing creative atmosphere in the town,” says Bill.  

For more information on the Creative in Residence programme at the former Methodist Church in Rawene follow this link.