29 August 2019

Linking Cultures

Birkdale and Beach Haven residents witness a renaissance in cultural richness and strong sense of community.


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Something is attracting young families to Birkdale and Beach Haven on Auckland’s North Shore, and it’s not just the opportunity to secure more affordable homes. The attraction is also being part of a tight-knit community that has become established through a diverse group of residents now calling this area home.

Early 19th Century milling on the north-west facing Birkdale slopes, saw thick native bush, pōhutukawa and giant kauri forest destroyed to make way for orchards and strawberry fields – the sunny aspect made for productive agricultural land. During the 1960s, Birkdale was subdivided, and Kiwi-classic weatherboard homes were built to house young families. More than 50 years on, these solidly built homes are again proving attractive to the next generation of young home buyers.

Before the Auckland Harbour Bridge was built, Beach Haven’s coastal strip was a popular holiday destination for many Aucklanders. Holiday baches typical of the era dotted the coastline. Many of these baches have since been replaced with architecturally designed homes nestled on tree-clad waterfront locations. Central Beach Haven which borders Birkdale, was developed predominately with state housing. Many of these homes are now privately owned by first-home buyers.

1960s Birkdale and Beach Haven, Kiwi-classic weatherboard bungalows were built on the quintessential quarter-acre section.

“I have seen couples retiring from Devonport to Beach Haven’s coastal area,” says Helene Brownlee of Ray White Damerell Group. “They can kayak and enjoy the parks and still keep some money in the bank. There are also endless first-home buyers who do up and stay, and investors who do up and sell or hold as long-term rentals.

“The attraction for many residents is the easy access to the city through good public transport, and this has been further enhanced by the regular ferry service. For others, it is the lifestyle, the magnificent sea views, water access, nearby beaches and the unpretentious community spirit.”

Integrating different languages and customs brings beneficial richness and strength to a community.

Helene adds, “Over the last decade I have noticed many French families coming through open homes in Birkdale and Beach Haven. They have not necessarily been new immigrants. Some have lived in other locations across Auckland. The arrival of these families to Birkdale and Beach Haven has created a beautiful French hub, bringing their own flavour to the area.”

There is no doubt one of the principal things attracting those with young families to Birkdale and Beach Haven is the range of bilingual education resources available, which are designed to create a sense of community and to ensure children maintain their cultural identity.

These groups are supported by non-profit, parent-led organisation FRENZ School Inc. which focuses on making sure children get the best possible French-English bilingual education in New Zealand. FRENZ sources French-language learning resources for students and helps find qualified teachers. View the FRENZ website here.

L'Étoile du Nord is a bilingual section at Birkdale North School for years 0 to 6.

At Birkdale North School, L'Étoile du Nord offers bilingual education to children (years 0 to 6) who have a French-speaking background, which enables them to continue to use their mother tongue. Children are taught the New Zealand school curriculum in English for 40% of the time, and in French immersion by native-speaking teachers for 60% of the time. The L'Étoile du Nord Facebook page is managed by the parents and you can follow here.

L'Étoile du Nord is one of only 91 schools worldwide accredited with ‘LabelFrancÉducation’, a seal of quality awarded by the French government for international schools teaching in French. The school attracts families from all over the Francophonie and there are children from 14 different nationalities attending.

Birkdale North School Principal, Jan McDonald, says, “We offer a range of learning opportunities at our school. Other integrated classes that are available include The Kiwi Collective (years 0 to 6) where a diverse group of children learn together, and Ngā Muka (years 4 to 6) is the whanau classroom where children of any culture can learn through Te Reo Maori and English. All classes are an integral part of the school.” Find out more info here.

La Petite Etoile offers a francophone immersion structure for children aged 3 to 5. French speaking, parent-led playgroup Les Petits Lascars caters for children from birth to 5 years.

From the Beach Haven playcentre, La Petite Etoile’s experienced educators Laurence and Nelly create a happy environment for children to communicate and learn in French.

Every Tuesday, 9am to 3pm, they run creative workshops with the children. Recently, they worked on a poetry project for Mother’s Day and for Matariki, and another involved creating games and songs around the theme of Kiwiana.

From birth to 5 years, Les Petits Lascars playgroup is open to children who are already familiar with French and the aim is to practise the French language in a stimulating and fun environment. A non-profit organisation subsidised by the New Zealand Ministry of Education and founded in 1992 by a group of parents, it continues to be managed today by a committee of volunteer parents.

As part of the New Zealand curriculum for early childhood, they follow the ‘Te Whariki’ principles: Whakamana – Empowerment, Kotahitanga – Holistic Development, Whānau Tangata – Family and Community and Ngā Hononga – Relationships. Visit the Les Petits Lascars website here.

Linking cultures and learning different languages helps connect and enhance a community. The addition of French settlers to Birkdale and Beach Haven together with Maori, Polynesian, Asian and European influences of foods, languages and customs, collectively fashions the rich tapestry of these destination suburbs – and the added bonus is the opportunity to secure a more affordable home easily accessible to the central city.

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