Early Days

Te Whare Mahana was founded in 1989 as an Incorporated Society by local counsellors Carol and Simon Parkinson-Jones, the realisation of their long held vision to provide a therapeutic retreat centre where people suffering from emotional and psychological difficulties could come and live for a time and work towards greater wellness and independence. From the very start, the emphasis of this small therapeutic community has been on rehabilitation and assisting people to make positive changes in their lives. Much valued and needed support in those early years came from Dr Helen Kingston, Anne Castle, Rev John Williams Richard, Lentia Thorpe and Rev. Charles Naylor, amongst others.

The house at 163 Commercial St was purchased in late 1989 and substantial renovations were carried out to bring it up to ‘boarding house’ standards before the first two residents moved in the following year. Carol Parkinson-Jones became the first Clinical Director and Faye Knight the first paid staff member. A therapy programme was designed and implemented for the fledgling therapeutic community.

Finding adequate funding was a major pre-occupation in those early years, and without substantial grants from bodies such as Lotteries Welfare and The Springhill Trust, TWM would not have been able to survive. The government’s de-institutionalisation philosophy in the 1990s coincided perfectly with the early years of TWM, the new expectation being that more mental health consumers would live in the wider community and receive support and treatment from their homes and as outpatients. Yet funding for community based services was slow to materialize, initially residents on a sickness or invalids benefit were minimally funded via the Department of Social Welfare under a scheme known as ‘maximisation of benefits.’ It took the establishment of the Regional Health Authorities (RHA) in 1993 for TWM to secure their first secure contract funding, for eight residents, which meant more staff could be hired. A year later, TWM affiliated with the Richmond Fellowship in order to be part of a national organisation doing similar work and get security of further funding, but it disaffiliated in 2001 as it became clear that Richmond Fellowship was slowly closing down all their therapeutic community programmes in favour of the ‘supported accommodation’ model.

TWM continued to grow from strength to strength with the appointment of Jo Johnson as Administration Manager in 1996, and Clinical Director John Gawith in 2001. At about the same time the outreach and vocational services were established.  When the DHBs were re-established in 2002, the services that TWM were providing were recognised by the signing of an on-going contract with the Nelson Marlborough DHB. The incorporation of the Dialectical Behavioural Therapy model into TWM’s Intensive Treatment Centre, specializing in treating people with personality disorders, makes it unique in New Zealand today.

The main residential house for the DBT programme is a turn of the century villa that was originally built in 1895 as a convent for the Sisters of the Mission teaching nuns who taught at St Augustine’s Primary School which was located next door. The Victorian character of this old convent house has been well preserved, along with the sprawling grounds full of established trees and ornamental gardens.