'It's a living entity': What became of the old Centrepoint site (2022)

An aerial photo of Kāwai Purapura shows the dozens of buildings built by the Centrepoint community, and North Harbour Stadium in the top left corner. Photo / Kāwai Purapura

By Michelle Cooke of RNZ

Down the road from one of the country's largest malls and across the highway from a big shopping complex is the old Centrepoint site, which has become the new home of a colourful and vibrant community.

Thousands of people drive past each day and most have no idea what is hidden behind the bush, or that it was once the site of the Centrepoint commune, thrust back into the spotlight recently after Heaven and Hell: The Centrepoint Story aired on TV.

There have been numerous stories and documentaries about the controversial commune which came to an end in the early 1990s when police raided the site in Albany, Auckland, and several members were arrested for sexual abuse and drug offences.

Read More

  • Centrepoint survivors on speaking out and reconciliation - NZ Herald
  • 'I feared for my life': Auckland woman's crusade against Centrepoint commune - NZ Herald
  • Memory won't fade easily from Centrepoint property - NZ Herald
  • Centrepoint commune leader dies - NZ Herald

But the story about what became of the site after the commune dissolved has never truly been told - until now.

The people who live there now say it is a "place of healing", a "playground for artists" and a community of giving.

'It's a living entity': What became of the old Centrepoint site (1)

The man who runs the place - but doesn't live there - sums it up: "It's very much a community, but it's not just a community for the residents… It's a living entity you come and take part in."

Paul Gregory is the general manager of Kāwai Purapura, a wellness retreat, holistic educational centre and home to roughly 100 people.

(Video) Heaven & Hell - The Centrepoint Story [Censored]

Artists moved in after the Centrepoint community left and the Public Trust eventually took over management. Much of the 100 acres were taken over by the council or sold to developers but, in 2009, 19 acres was sold to Prema Trust.

Ngāti Whatua named it Kāwai Purapura - kāwai meaning a tentacle (reflecting its past) and purapura - a new seed.

'It's a living entity': What became of the old Centrepoint site (2)

A whakawātea was held shortly after the trust took over, which several former Centrepoint members attended. Some have returned over the years, as part of their own healing journey, and a group of women come back each year to visit The Glade, where placentas and stillborn babies are buried.

One man never left and still lives there, up on the hill. He mostly keeps to himself, Gregory says, but occasionally will mingle with others in the intentional community.

So who are the people who now call this place home?

"Creative people, artistic people and spiritual people, and people looking for spiritual awareness," Gregory says.

Many are healers. There are sound, colour and crystal therapists, acupuncturists, yoga, mirimiri and reiki practitioners.

Some work outside the community and return in the evenings to their secret oasis.

There's a real estate agent, a movie director and an IT professional.

"You'd be amazed at the skill set of the people who live here," Gregory says. "But it's generally [those living] that holistic lifestyle, living that yoga lifestyle, living that community lifestyle."

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While most come for peace, some come to escape, but their past lives of violence and drug or alcohol abuse sometimes catches up to them, Gregory says.

'It's a living entity': What became of the old Centrepoint site (3)

Most people live alone, either in a cabin or room, and share bathroom and kitchen facilities.

They live in buildings built by the Centrepoint community which have been given new names, such as Lotus and Shanti. The long rooms have been partitioned and so have the toilets.

They hold residents' dinners, where everyone will chip in money for kai, gather around a bonfire most full moons, and have movie nights together. They even had a residents' screening of the recent Centrepoint documentary.

The interview process usually weeds out those who won't fit in, and the resident manager is expected to act on instinct.

Like any co-living arrangement, there can be tension at times, and bad things happen. People tell stories about conflict between residents and volunteers, people stealing food and unwanted visitors. Sometimes people don't leave when they are told to, and in a worse-case scenario, police get involved.

But people are mostly positive about their experiences with KP. Residents say it offers them something they can't get elsewhere.

"I have got all of the nature I could want, but I am still in the heart of Auckland," says Pete Wyatt, a 60-year-old resident who has lived at KP - how residents refer to it - for five years.

'It's a living entity': What became of the old Centrepoint site (4)
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The forest is rich and lush, with glow worms, streams and several bush tracks, some which trail off into nowhere. Several large eucalyptus trees planted by the Centrepoint community were recently cut down because they were becoming dangerous, and for the first time the community hidden away up the long narrow driveway was confronted with the outside reality from within the one they choose to escape to. It was if the curtains were ripped open.

The stumps of the trees were left to be used as seats, and more trees will be planted in their place. KP is always turning up surprises that remind Gregory of what it once was and who built it.

An electrician once called out for a job couldn't find the end of some wires after they disappeared into the ground, so they had to ask the old Centrepoint member who still lives there to help.

"He trotted down and came and saw us and we walked off into the bush and on the back of the tree in the middle of nowhere is a fuse board, and we flicked a switch and the power came back on," Gregory says. It's since been removed.

The trust generates income from the residents' rent, casual accommodation, its on-site cafe and venue hire. Rooms and facilities are booked out for conferences, they hold annual festivals and there is even a school holiday programme. It is open to the general public, but some choose not to come because of its dark past.

Many people from overseas used to visit, particularly to learn yoga, or volunteer in between the fruit picking season. They used to have up to 50 volunteers at a time - more in the lead up to the big festivals held on site - but that number has dwindled to around 15.

'It's a living entity': What became of the old Centrepoint site (5)

Annette is the volunteer manager and arrived after the second level 4 lockdown last year, having hunkered down off-grid in Raglan for the months prior.

The crystal sound therapist with a background in law and business quickly put her skills to use, bringing older and younger volunteers together, giving volunteers their own rooms and bridging the divide between them and residents.

Everyone is always coming to her with problems, usually ones she can handle. It is fine if people have issues they are working through, she says. But while KP might be a lot of things, it is not a mental health or addiction service.

Annette would like to see the place focus more on becoming self-sustainable, a sentiment echoed by many of the residents and returning volunteer, French man Thomas Tournant.

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After eight months travelling and working on orchards, Tournant came back a couple months ago after chatting with management about plans for a Heal NZ festival next year. But he is driven to stay by a passion for the land.

"We need people to stay mindful to make this place what it should be because there is so much potential," he says.

When the Prema Trust purchased the site, trustees Phillip and Jennifer Cottingham had a vision to build a place where people could learn about all sorts of different ways of living and environmental and ecological awareness.

"We really see it as an education centre - an example of living in a busy urban environment but still close to nature," Phillip says.

They wish to establish community wellbeing programmes, day seminars and eventually a residential wellbeing facility where people who are discharged from hospital can be cared for as they transition back into their lives.

Phillip says he and Jenny view themselves as kaitiaki, caretakers of the land.

"It's still an unfolding vision, but the vision was to have a campus for our college (Wellpark College of Natural Therapies) and a residential healing facility, and it was clear also that there would be people living here who could align with the land and part of what we wanted to do was to make sure that the existing bush and forest was all preserved."

It appears that as long as the site remains in the hands of the trust, this slither of oasis in northern Auckland's concrete jungle will remain. And one day seeds will grow into trees which will once again hide the highway and the big Mitre 10 across the road - the only visible reminders of what's outside.

• Part two of this story - "Inside an intentional community: The people who call Kāwai Purapura home" will be published tomorrow

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FAQs

What happened to the Centrepoint property? ›

After Centrepoint

In March 2000 the trust that owned the property was disestablished by order of The High Court of New Zealand, and all assets placed under administration by the newly formed New Zealand Communities Growth Trust.

Is Centrepoint still there? ›

The Centre Point fountains have been removed as part of the demolition of the plaza for Crossrail.

When was Centrepoint shut down? ›

The commune was shut down in 2000 after some leaders, including Potter, were convicted of sexual abuse and drugs crimes. Potter was convicted and sentenced in 1990 to 3-1/2 years in jail on drug charges, and in 1992 to 7-1/2 years for indecent assaults on five children, some as young as three and a half.

What was Centrepoint in New Zealand? ›

Founded in 1977 by ex-vacuum salesman Bert Potter, Centrepoint was an alternative lifestyle settlement that promoted intimate communal living, along with personal and sexual freedom. This documentary observes members' struggles to reconcile the values of their new home with the outside world.

Who owns Centrepoint now? ›

Artists moved in after the Centrepoint community left and the Public Trust eventually took over management. Much of the 100 acres were taken over by the council or sold to developers but, in 2009, 19 acres was sold to Prema Trust.

What is Centrepoint now? ›

But the old Centrepoint complex at Albany is now home to a wellness centre focused on spiritual and physical health. The property initially opened as a commune founded by self styled new age guru Bert Potter and his followers in 1977. CLEANSING THE SITE: A dreamcatcher at the healing centre.

Who was Bert Potters wife? ›

It was about a month after her arrival that Bert Potter's wife, Margie, came out of the kitchen and asked Louise to go to Bert's car crate.

Who founded Centrepoint? ›

History. The charity was founded by the Anglo-Catholic socialist priest Kenneth Leech and set up its first shelter in a Soho church on 16 December 1969.

Why is Centrepoint empty? ›

Because of an economic downturn much of it remained empty for several years, with Hyams content to benefit from the escalation in its capital value while he paid no rates. The structure thus gained a reputation as a monument to the evils of capitalism and a hundred squatters occupied it in 1974.

What is Centrepoint used for? ›

Centrepoint provides homeless young people with accommodation, health support and life skills in order to get them back into education, training and employment. We want to end youth homelessness by 2037.

Who was convicted at Centrepoint? ›

The victims of sexual abuse at the Centrepoint community are speaking out — but what about accountability for the perpetrators? John Potter, the son of Centrepoint guru Bert Potter, was convicted of two charges of indecent assault on an underage girl.

How much does the CEO of Centrepoint earn? ›

Compensation by Company
Name And TitleTotal Compensation
David J. Lesar President and Chief Executive OfficerTotal Compensation $37,809,810 View details
Kenneth M. Mercado Former Executive Vice President, Electric UtilityTotal Compensation $1,981,455 View details
4 more rows

Who is the CEO of Centrepoint charity? ›

Seyi Obakin OBE

Seyi is Centrepoint's Chief Executive Officer, and is responsible for the whole organisation.

Is Centrepoint only in London? ›

Centrepoint provides housing and support for young people regionally in London, Manchester, Yorkshire and the North East and through partnerships all over the UK.

How many floors is Centrepoint Tower? ›

When was Centrepoint Tower built? ›

Design and construction

Construction of Sydney Tower Centrepoint shopping centre began in the late 1970's with the first 52 shops opening in 1972. The office component was completed in 1974 and the final stage of the complex, the Sydney Tower, was opened to the public in September 1981.

Who built Centre point London? ›

A 1960s office block that was very controversial when it was built. It was one of the most important speculative office developments of its period in Britain.It was built between 1961-66 by Richard Seifert and Partners; George Marsh was the designer.

Is Centrepoint legit? ›

Is Centrepoint a good company to work for? Centrepoint has an overall rating of 2.9 out of 5, based on over 77 reviews left anonymously by employees. 31% of employees would recommend working at Centrepoint to a friend and 25% have a positive outlook for the business. This rating has been stable over the past 12 months.

How much does the CEO of Centrepoint earn? ›

Compensation by Company
Name And TitleTotal Compensation
David J. Lesar President and Chief Executive OfficerTotal Compensation $37,809,810 View details
Kenneth M. Mercado Former Executive Vice President, Electric UtilityTotal Compensation $1,981,455 View details
4 more rows

Is Centrepoint just in London? ›

Centrepoint is the UK's leading youth homelessness charity. We support young people aged 16-25 across 60 services in London, Yorkshire, Manchester and the North East of England.

Who is the CEO of Centrepoint? ›

Seyi is Centrepoint's Chief Executive Officer, and is responsible for the whole organisation.

What does the charity Centrepoint do? ›

Centrepoint provides housing and support for young people regionally in London, Manchester, Yorkshire and the North East and through partnerships all over the UK. We aim to give homeless young people a future and we want to end youth homelessness by 2037.

Who is the highest paid charity CEO in UK? ›

For example Steve Robertson of the privatised Thames Water, which serves water to 10,000,000 people, received a fixed salary of £745,000 in 2018, with potential bonus of £3,750,000 in 2020.
...
CEO compensation among charities in the United Kingdom.
CharityAge UK
CEO nameJonny Towers
Charity turnover (£)86,400,000
Turnover data sourced2016
Salary percentage (2 s.f.)0.22%
22 more columns

Why do CEOs of charities make so much? ›

The CEO of a non-profit is ultimately responsible for ensuring the financial viability of the charity. Having to ensure the charity can bring in donations, secure funding and manage its finances correctly is one of the big reasons non-profit CEOs make so much money.

How much is the CEO of Unicef paid? ›

UNICEF USA President & CEO Michael J. Nyenhuis' salary, at $620,000, is less than 1% of all funds raised for children. UNICEF USA's tax returns (called "990s") are published annually and are readily available to the public.

What is the best homeless charity to support UK? ›

London-based charity Glass Door runs the UK's largest network of open-access shelters for people who are experiencing homelessness.

What charities help the homeless in the UK? ›

Shelter - The housing and homelessness charity.

What do homeless charities do? ›

Outreach workers scour the streets every night, aiming to find people spending their first night sleeping rough and take them to a refuge where they have food, beds and support workers to help them make contact with families, get medical or social services support, and if necessary find a hostel bed.

How much does it cost to sponsor a room at Centre point? ›

A room at Centrepoint can give a young person the safety, stability and support they need to start rebuilding their life. by sponsoring a room for just 40p a day, you can be part of that amazing transformation. We support 15,000 homeless young people to help them rebuild their lives.

What is the meaning of Centerpoint? ›

1 (Geometry) a the midpoint of any line or figure, esp. the point within a circle or sphere that is equidistant from any point on the circumference or surface. b the point within a body through which a specified force may be considered to act, such as the centre of gravity.

How many people are homeless in the UK? ›

[1] Est. no. of people homeless and living in TA arranged by the council[2] Est. no. of people homeless and living in TA arranged by them or 'homeless at home'[6] Est. total no. homeless people
249,8503,829274,405
9 Dec 2021

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