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Christchurch group plans social networking site

Anthony RohanA social-networking style website is the 2008 project on the cards for Christchurch’s White Elephant Trust, an organisation behind one of the must-visit destinations for youth in Christchurch.

“It’s the way to communicate,” says Antz Rohan, a White Elephant trust member (pictured).

“The concept we’ve got is a web 2.0 social networking thing – but very Christchurch centric. At any time you can go ‘what’s on Friday night?’ and it’s all there.

“We’re trying to take the whole MySpace / Bebo concept but really fit it to Christchurch.”

Read the updated White Elephant HQ story

“We’re really making an effort to provide value as well … so there’s an opportunity to load all your photos and videos.”

Physical validation, where people who sign up to the website receive a letter before they can use the site will be an important safety measure, Rohan says.

The trust is winding down for the Christmas break, but will be involved in a St Albans holiday programme and various low-cost events during the holidays.

2008 will be “huge”, Rohan says – with the new website under way, there’ll be a volunteer membership drive, and plans to revamp the venue and install the new radio station and DJ booth.

“There’ll be a lot of change. It’s going to be really good.”

DJ school, radio station in pipeline

The project is one of many that the trust are involved in. The venue hosts events for up and coming DJs and a DJ school where aspiring audioheads can test their skills and develop their repertoire.

TurntableArt exhibitions, a radio station (online and on air) and meeting spaces are also part of the mix.

“There is a lot out there to do," Rohan says.

“People just don’t know about it. The number one expense for an event is promotion. You can spend, literally, thousands of dollars and not get anyone. Whereas we’re quite lucky – we’ve got our own crew, a core bunch of people who will turn up to events and will promote out to all their friends.

“But I’ve seen events which funders will throw thousands of dollars at because it might be a youth specific event – and get about 20 people. They don’t have the channels and they don’t understand how to promote it.”

Forty young people make radio shows on the low-power guardband station that the trust operates, and the plan is to have Christchurch schools contributing and doing shows throughout the week.

Plans for a city-wide frequency are in the pipeline, but at the moment the station operates with the assistance of transmitter “up the hill”. Two not-for-profit frequencies are to be made available in Christchurch in the near future and Rohan is planning to be ready to take that on when it happens.

New HQ 'perfect' space

Tired of “hiding in the backs of cafes” and meeting in garages a venue committee was established to find a new home for the trust. After a stint on Barbadoes Street, the trust’s new home is at 1 Bedford Row, overlooking Manchester Street.

“It’s perfect – the space is just amazing and the committee has worked through a plan of redeveloping the space and putting in production studios, a radio station, a board room, meeting rooms – but at the same time keeping it an open space so it can be used for art exhibitions, small gatherings and that sort of thing…”

Incorporated in 2005, the trust was born out of the desire to run events for young people and the need for a better quality of venue, and a better experience at events for young audiences.

“We were running events under the name Rinsed – we’d done it for the first year in clubs – R18 environments. We got to the point where we were just a bit sick of having drunk people there, basically. It was just too gross.”

“There’s something unsettling about people only going to the bar to drink and not going to listen to your music. After a year we decided to do a warehouse party – we got 600 people along. We were just amazed. It was the best night ever.”

The formula proved successful – and a staunch insistence on alcohol-free events attracted more youth made the events even more popular.

“We didn’t want to have the police come in and shut us down. We wanted to run a party, have all our friends come up, have a chance to DJ…

“Myself and all my friends were learning to DJ but we didn’t have an opportunity to go out and play anywhere, so we just decided to make our own.”

The events were the only outlet for up-and-coming DJs to get in front of a crowd.

“To break into the Christchurch scene is pretty hard. Now, if you’re a young DJ and you want to play – if you’re good enough, you get the opportunity. We also give you the support to be able to learn as well.”

Events flyers

Planning, structure key to success

The trust structure has worked well for the group, who are “relatively self-sufficient” due to the proceeds from events. Rohan’s employment as a career and financial services specialist helps the trust in this regard.

“Our major funding has come from this HQ  thanks to the Eureka Trust and Canterbury Community Trust who have really come on board.”

Planning, and planning for success is a hallmark of the trusts activities.“Being an accountant helps with the business and finance side of things. I do a lot of information systems in terms of policy, procedure development, business processes… that really helps out. It means we can set those for the trust and just roll with it.”

The idea is to have sound systems and procedures so that young people can have an idea and make it happen with the help of the trust.

“We provide the framework – we’ve got the policies there so you can just slot in and start doing it.”

HQ a hive of activity

“Even in the short five months that we’ve been here the place has just boomed. There’s constant activity here. We’ve got the radio station, we’ve got meeting rooms, we’ve got this art exhibition happening. People are just in awe about it – it’s great.”

Hallway artwork“Growth has been very organic. You’ve only got one shot to go out there and do it, so you might as well do it the best you can. At the moment we’re gathering our resources, getting our programmes in place, but at the same time just growing organically.”

“We’re not out there trying to be the trust that fixes all the problems, but at least we can be a friend. We’re all young ourselves and we can relate to the youth and talk on their level. In a way you befriend a lot of them and they can talk … We can refer them on to the appropriate agencies and help that way.”

“A lot of the time all kids want is someone to talk to. We’re not there to say ‘that’s right’ and ‘that’s wrong’. We’re just saying if you’re asking for help, we’ll give you help.”

Rohan admits the role is “hectic” but pays tribute to the other trustees and trust administrator Matthew Glanville, and all of the volunteers.
“It’s not a solo project. The key is making sure tasks are delegated properly. You can only do what you can.”

Seeing young people achieve their goals is satisfying, Rohan says.

“We’ve got an events committee, and out of that we’ve got about three young people that are out there putting on their own events now. That personal development, that leadership opportunity is great. A lot of it is sharing knowledge and skills.”

More than seventy volunteers work with the trust, and there are different committees for various projects.
“It just grew, and we have something like eight or nine committees now.”

That the trust can get young people involved and keep them involved is testament to their success – especially in ‘committees’ - the very mention of the word makes most people turn and run.

“Maybe committee is cool now, maybe we’ve made it cool. I think they feel special – well, valued – to belong to a committee. (The parents) come along, they have a look  - we get a really good reaction from parents.”