From left, Megan Rosene, Jonathan Rosene, Nisha Blissett, Marlborough Muslim Association president Zayd Ian Blissett and Margot Wilson.
An interfaith group, determined to create a “safe, serene and beautiful” place for people to practise Islam in Marlborough, is pushing ahead with fundraising plans to fundraise to buy a new site for an Islamic Faith Centre.
The idea comes from a group of Marlborough people, outraged by the Christchurch Mosque Shooting. It is supported by the Marlborough Muslim Association who are frustrated by stalled plans for a site already purchased in Budge St.
Some members of the small, dedicated team met with Stuff at Seymour Square on Thursday. The meeting was a far cry from a scene two months ago, when the Marlborough community gathered shoulder to shoulder, to mourn the victims and families of the Christchurch massacre.
For almost two decades Marlborough’s Muslim community has been looking for place to go for prayer, hold meetings and celebrate festivals.
Marlborough Community Project member Megan Rosene said creating an Islamic Faith Centre in Blenheim was the most practical way to say “we welcome and include people of all faiths”.
“We felt like this was the most permanent way to help,” she said.
The vision for the faith centre was a “beautifully designed place”, built and gifted by the community, Rosene said.
There was no better reaction to the Christchurch shooter than to “actually go we’re going to welcome more Muslims into our community, we’re going to build this faith centre,” she said.
They were not just seeking funding, but in-kind skills and trades, Rosene said.
“If we can get everyone with their trades and skills to help out, then it will be a true community gift to say everything that happened in Christchurch is so not who we are. This is what we want to do to show it.”
The first stage was to create a fundraising plan and raise the funds to buy a property. The group was looking for a new site in the central Blenheim for security and ease of access.
They made an informal submission to the Marlborough District Council’s Annual Plan to update councillors and hoped to present a more detailed version at the annual plan hearings next month.
With Blenheim announced as a refugee resettlement location, a faith centre could help integrate Muslim refugees into the community, the submission said.
“They’re not coming here because they want to, they’re coming here because they have to,” Rosene said.
“It’s the first thing that people who are Catholic do when they move somewhere, they go and find their local church and meet people that way. It’s no different.”
The project was calling for people with expertise of all sorts, to work alongside the Marlborough Islamic Community in bringing the faith centre to life.
Marlborough Muslim Association president Zayd Ian Blissett said the support it was receiving was “overwhelming”.
“I’m touched that people should want to do this,” he said.
Students and professionals chose not to come to Marlborough, because there was nowhere suitable to practice their faith, he said.
Some hopped off the ferry and sought out a place to pray, but had little success. Others had left the region so their children could receive the appropriate Islamic teachings.
A place of worship would also service Muslim people working in Blenheim; encouraging doctors, nurses and other skilled workers to come to the regions, as well as Recognised Seasonal Employees, Airforce employees and winery workers.,It could also attract students to Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, he said.
The Association had $61,000 saved toward a prayer room, he said.
It had been a “long journey” trying to find a place. They had rented a room in the local community centre for the past couple of years, intending it to only be a six month temporary fix.
A site on Budge St, which was purchased by the New Zealand Islamic Development Trust, had remained empty since the dairy that was on it was demolished in 2016 after a fire.
Held up by a legal stoush when asbestos was found at the site, the empty property is now overgrown and derelict.
The existing site received a wave of support from the community following the attacks, with flowers and notes left at the fence of the property.
But with no word from the trust for more than six months, the group was in “limbo” and had decided to go it alone and fundraise to create a centre on a different site, Blissett said.
Community Project member, and mother of Rosene, Margot Wilson said they aimed to have the project “well under way” by the anniversary of the Christchurch Mosque shootings.
“Obtaining land and a building that can either be knocked down or renovated is the most important thing.”
Wilson would be using her skills as the former Cancer Society Marlborough manager to focus their fundraising effort.