Youth hub being investigated as a ‘safe space’ in Wellington’s troubled CBD

Wellington City Council is investigating a youth hub in the central city, which would be a safe space for people to come together and be themselves.

The city’s safety has been in the spotlight recently after an increased reporting of sexual abuse and a string of serious assaults, including a fatal assault outside Te Papa earlier this year.

Last week Wellington-based National list MP Nicola Willis said publicly she didn’t feel safe walking in the central city.

Today Wellington City councillors agreed to consult with the community on a proposed Social Wellbeing Framework and draft Strategy for Children and Young People.

Children portfolio leader councillor Jill Day successfully passed an amendment for an investigation into a suitable central city space for a youth hub, where young people would have access to activities and services.

Any findings will be considered by the Grants Sub-Committee in December this year.

City Safety and Youth portfolio leader councillor Tamatha Paul, who is 23 years old, said the hub would have to be in the city where “all the action is happening”.

“Unfortunately it’s not the safest space at the moment and it is in dire need of a makeover.”

She envisaged the hub as being somewhere young people could come together, be themselves, and be safe.

“Often when young people are on the streets in town they experience catcalling, being followed or groped, so a safe space for young people would have the co-benefit of improving safety.”

But she acknowledged the wider issue of anti-social and predatory behaviour on the streets is a problem that would still exist until it is directly addressed.

Councillor Teri O’Neill, also 23, said she supported a youth hub as a key space.

She can remember when the Reading Cinema complex on Courtenay Place was open until 11.30pm for movies.

There were security guards to watch over the space below the cinemas, which was commonly used by young people as a meeting point.

But the complex has been plagued with seismic issues following the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake and has been closed for the past two years.

O’Neill said a space like a youth hub was best practice for city safety.

“They do a great deal to get people off the street during vulnerable hours. It pulls people away from feeling unsafe.

“It’s a place to charge your phone, a place to rest, where you don’t have to pay $5.50 for a latte.”

Councillor Jenny Condie also successfully passed an amendment for council staff to investigate a short-term hangout space.

This could be done using the model of repurposing empty retail space in the CBD while more permanent options for a youth hub are investigated.

Condie noted there was $2.4 million of unallocated funding in the City Recovery Fund, which could be used for such a project.

“It’s an opportunity to create a safe space for people to hang out like they did at Reading Cinema.”

Councillor Sean Rush even shared his own experience of the CBD from when he was younger.

“The CBD has always been unsafe at times, this broken nose was a consequence of an altercation that I can’t even remember, not because of my alcohol consumption, but I was mugged from behind.”

Councillor Rebecca Matthews welcomed the opportunity to temporarily bring some lively activity to empty retail spaces, which in their current state were leading people to describe the city as “bleak” and “empty”.

Condie agreed it would kill two birds with one stone.

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