Hard work to create orchestra’s home

Labour of love . . . Thrilled to be welcoming the Prime Minister to officially open Hanover Hall this week are (from left) building owners-restorers Cally McWha and Lloyd Williams, and Dunedin Symphony Orchestra manager Philippa Harris. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

Transforming a wreck of a building into a home for an orchestra has been a labour of love for Lloyd Williams and Cally McWha.

The couple, who bought the former Baptist Church building in Hanover St in September 2015, have worked hard to make it into a permanent home for the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra.

“When we went in to look around, it was a sad place, but also exciting,” Ms McWha said.

At that time, the building had been extensively damaged by its previous tenant, a nightclub. Most of the interior doors had been smashed, and the slate roof had failed; pigeons were nesting inside and squatters had been living there.

However, it had a broad interior space, with plenty of room to seat an orchestra, and an 80% earthquake rating.

“I could see that it would be a perfect place to become a home for the orchestra,” she said.

After buying the building for $500,000, Dr Williams and Ms McWha renamed it Hanover Hall and set about restoring it in partnership with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra.

They brought in contractors for the major work, including slate specialists Cameron Roofing, stained glass expert Kevin Casey and plaster ceiling restorer Seddon’s, had Leith Joinery repair many of the doors and also did a lot of building and painting work themselves.

The restoration project cost about $250,000.

In addition, the DSO raised $340,00 for acoustic tiles and carpet, and to fit out the kitchen and office spaces.

The DSO has a 40-year lease on the building, at favourable terms, with a trust in place to look after its maintenance.

Dr Williams and Ms McWha, who divide their time between Dunedin and Auckland, have played with the DSO for the past five years – Ms McWha plays violin and Dr Williams plays double bass.

Ms McWha has also just become the orchestra’s development manager.

As staunch supporters of the arts in general and the orchestra in particular, their aim in buying and restoring Hanover Hall has been to provide security for the orchestra into the future.

“We not only love the orchestra, we also love old buildings – so it is very satisfying.

“And there is the motivation of giving while you are living. It is much better to have the pleasure of giving, than to wait until you are dead,” Dr Williams said.

DSO general manager Philippa Harris said the orchestra was very grateful for the all the support it continued to receive from Dr Williams and Ms McWha.

“Hanover Hall is an ideal space for the orchestra, and it allows us to also work with other arts organisations as a venue,” Ms Harris said.

The hall had been used for a variety of performances, including brass bands, barbershop quartet, string quartets, recitals and Little Box of Operas productions.

Although there is still much to be done – it takes time to reverse the effects of years of neglect – the building is now in sufficiently good condition for an official opening.

With Prime Minister and Minister for the Arts Jacinda Ardern in town for the Labour Party conference this weekend, she will do the honours during a private function tomorrow.

Following the official opening, a public viewing of the restored Hanover Hall will be held this Sunday, November 4, from 3pm to 5pm. All welcome.