For the third year in a row, Warkworth’s largest community event – the annual Kowhai Festival – has been cancelled.
And unless volunteer organisers step forward, the cancellation could be permanent.
The festival was last held in 2019 when it celebrated 50 years, making it the second oldest festival held continuously in New Zealand.
However, Covid-19 stymied plans for both the 2020 and 2021 festivals, and it seems the absence of the event has taken its toll on organisers. Only nine people attended the annual meeting held on April 12, where Phil Tyler was elected chair.
“It was a difficult decision not to go ahead with this year’s festival, but Covid and lockdowns have made it hard to keep people engaged,” Tyler says. “We need to move into a rebuilding phase and the small group currently involved is incredibly motivated to make the festival happen next year, but we will clearly need more in terms of human resources.”
Tyler says the group also needs more time to sort out council processes.
“There are so many hoops to jump through, from health and safety to traffic management plans, which all have to be done by volunteers who mostly have full-time jobs.
Tyler says the festival also needs to rebuild partnerships with businesses interested in sponsoring the event, which costs between $30,000 to $50,000 depending on entertainment costs.
However, this isn’t the first time the festival has been on the brink of closure.
It was about 15 years ago that Lesley Ingham took over its management to keep it going, after Dave Parker stepped aside. Ingham ran it for seven years and during that time, built up an enthusiastic team of volunteers.
“It was a matter of shoulder-tapping people like Shona Pickup and Kath Bartlett, and then getting processes in place to make the running of it easier,” Ingham says. “At the start, Sally Groenhart took on the children’s festival, which was a big help.
“It will be a real shame if the town loses the festival. It’s had a long history and it is such a fun event.
Also, Warkworth doesn’t have a lot of events that are as inclusive. The Kowhai Festival brings everyone together, even teenagers!”
Ingham says she can see how things have probably become harder post-Covid, but believes there is still potential for it to be a community festival again.
Phil Tyler can be contacted at Philip.email@example.com or 027 5830 486.