$3.1 million confirmed for Soldiers' Block restoration
Confirmed funding of $3.1 million has been announced by Hurunui District Council to give impetus to a long-awaited project to revitalise the Old Soldiers’ Block at Queen Mary Hospital Historic Reserve in Hanmer Springs.
At a public meeting in Hanmer Springs this week, Council’s Chief Strategy and Community Officer Judith Batchelor and Graeme Abbot, General Manager for Product Development at Hurunui Tourism, unveiled the Development Plan for the three-stage, multi-use project, which, Batchelor said, had been eight years in the pipeline to secure funding.
Lottery Grants Board funding of $350,000, combined with $1 million existing budget from the Queen Mary development contributions account, an allocation of $250,000 from Councils’ earthquake strengthening fund, and $1.5 million from the government’s Better Off funding had raised a total of $3.1 million to proceed with the first stages of the project.
Stage One will see the earthquake strengthening and restoration of the Soldiers’ Block building and is expected to be completed by the end of next year. The restoration work would include the original hospital wards, located in the east and west octagons, and the rooms linking these, and the restoration and fit-out of the central hall as a multi-use community space, said Batchelor.
A concept plan for a potential immersive experience created by Weta Workshop was also shown at the meeting. The experience would guide visitors through history brought to life as soldiers, nurses and patients share their experiences from the past. Visitors would move through a series of rooms that follow the journey from the horrors of the war to the healing that was delivered at Queen Mary Hospital, bringing attention to special features such as the octagon design of the building that let in light and air to patients as part of the healing process. The experience would acknowledge the importance of the building’s full history as a convalescent home for soldiers, a national centre for the treatment of functional nervous disorders and neurasthenia, a community centre for dances and events, the Taha Maori programme and a clinic for drug and alcohol addiction.
Abbot said 21st century technology had made the telling of these stories from the past possible in a way that was immersive and interactive.
“There has come to light some incredible stories and incredible opportunities for telling these stories,” Abbot said. “This is not about putting up some hospital beds and signs – this is about creating an experience.”
Abbot said the next step would be to seek external capital funding and/or a commercial partner for bring the immersive experience to reality.
Batchelor said the project would be presented to community organisations across Hurunui.
“We need to work with the community all the way through this journey as this building sits at the heart of our community and its restoration needs to be community led.”
The Soldiers’ Block, along with the other buildings on the Queen Mary Hospital Historic Reserve, was vested in the Hurunui District Council in 2010 and is managed under the Queen Mary Hospital Historic Reserve Management Plan.