River Bank Centre

Did you know that in newspaper reports and official documents Richard Bedward Owen was styled “Mr R B Owen”, but unofficially he was called “River Bank” Owen?

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My vision for “River Bank Centre” is a place for Research, Design & Technology Centre.
Using Technology to create Digital Story Telling, where we remember our ‘identity, sense of place and history of the Christchurch’.

My idea for the ‘Ōtākaro Loop Reach’ is “River Bank Centre”, based at Avonside Girls’ High School.

The “River Bank Centre could include:
Studios, Learning Spaces, Exhibition Spaces, STEAM Businesses, Day/Night Classes, KidsFest Program etc.
Think: Science Alive, Weta Digital, Imagination Station, Code Club Aotearoa, The VR Room, The Mind Lab, Ministry of Awesome, Callaghan Innovation, Interactive Exhibition Specialists (IES), Nigel Ogle’s Tawhiti Museum, Hawera etc.

While doing research, I found out about Richard Bedward Owen (1873 – 1948), “River Bank” Owen.
Since then I have wanted to find a way to honor his legacy, somewhere in the “Red Zone Futures: Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor.”

He was a tailor, business owner and established his own highly successful enterprise, Owen’s Ltd.
He became immersed in public affairs, deeply interested in music, President of the Woolston Brass Band, honorary secretary and then director of the Royal Christchurch Musical Society.
He joined the Christchurch Beautifying Association, and was a committee member from 1923, and then President from 1933 – 36.
His particular interest was ‘the improvement of the Avon River and its environs’.

“Beautifying Association luminary Charles Chilton opened Millbrook Reserve to the masses on 26 January 1924. Four years later a photographer, Carl Beken, presented Richard with an album which showed how the area had been developed from ‘little more than a rubbish dump’ to ‘one of the city’s most attractive beauty spots.’

“When, in 1922, the ‘Creeping Depression’ came to Christchurch, Richard established the River Improvement Fund. Business people and local government gave money, and men employed on public works were paid not a pittance but the award rate, a principle being established to which the city council would adhere even in the depths of the 1930s’ Depression.”

“Richard’s men strove to turn into reality the ideal of ‘making Christchurch beautiful’. They worked in the vicinity of Avon bridges within the city, and at Colombo Street replaced decayed structures with shrubs, a miniature waterfall and steps which gave access to the river. The masses admired the improvements when they attended free riverside entertainments which featured music, illuminated water displays and cleverly arranged silent movie shows.”

“Even as Richard laboured on these endeavours, there was developing in his mind a plan ‘to take in hand the river and make up for past neglect.’
He presented his ideas to the Beautifying Association in December 1925.
Richard envisaged weirs being introduced to beautify the stream.
The waterway beside Park Terrace would be a carnival area, while the Burwood-Dallington district would be blessed with a municipal golf course, zoological gardens and, below Kerrs Reach, one of the ‘finest regatta courses in the world.’
A weir from the Spit to Shag Rock would maintain water in the Avon-Heathcote Estuary and in this aquatic playground would be found accommodation for rowboats, speedboats and seaplanes. In pioneer times, coastal craft had frequented the river; with debris removed and the channel deepened, launches and perhaps even yachts would come again. However, the best-known feature of the scheme was the proposed wide tree-lined riverside boulevard stretching from the Carlton Bridge to New Brighton.”

“He was considered a conservationist and philanthropist, Richard held to ‘the wild dream of visionaries’, he stated that riverside reserves were needed ‘as a lung right in the heart of our busy city’, and was told his schemes were ‘too futuristic to be considered.'”

Now back to present day…I was looking through the KidsFest catalogue and noticed that there were very few activites for our kids living in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch.

My 10 year old son Ben, is into Minecraft, Lego (Stop Motion Animation, Mindstorms Robotics), Virtual Reality, Roblox and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) activities.

I remembered Science Alive and thought that would be a great place to take him during the school holidays.
But when I went to their website I found this message: ‘Science Alive is currently rebuilding the programmes for our new Science Centre.
We have previously run a wide range of science and technology programmes.’

So I did a Google search and found these articles:
New Christchurch Science Alive headquarters cut from $25 million to $5m
Science Alive! cuts staff and programmes as building plans drag on
The troubles of Science Alive! show the fine line between ambition and folly
Ex-Science Alive! boss sets up business to compete with old employer

Why isn’t our ‘child-focused educational facility’ science centre where our children are?

Why aren’t we focusing on locating ‘uniquely NZ’ attractions in the “Red Zone Futures: Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor”?

Avonside Girls’ High School ‘now has more than 60 new buildings’ after the Government ‘spending $10 million on it.’

“Avonside Girls’ High School and Shirley Boys’ High School are in the process of creating a brand new, state of the art campus, which will become a crucial asset for the east of Christchurch. Our new schools will open their doors in 2019.”

With Avonside Girls’s High School left empty in 2019, after a $10 million Government makeover, with 60 relocatable classrooms, including brand new fully equipped Science Labs, Gymnasium, Woodworking/Home Economics/Textile Technology/Art Department, wouldn’t this be a great facility on the “Red Zone Futures: Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor”?

We took Ben to the Open Day for the University of Canterbury Science & Engineering this year.
I know he’s only 10 years old, but we wanted to inspire him and show him where his interest in computers and STEAM activities could take him.
After looking through the windows of the different labs, he wanted to know ‘why can’t I go here now?’

We could provide those opportunities now at the “River Bank Centre”.
The facilities are already there.
Our teenagers will be attending the new campus in 2019, in another suburb.

So why not reuse/recycle/repurpose this great educational resource as a place for Research, Design & Technology, using Technology to create Digital Story Telling, to anchor our stories to the land where we remember our ‘identity, sense of place and history of the Christchurch’.

What a great way to honor the visionary/conservationist/philanthropist Richard Bedward Owen (‘River Bank’ Owen), and share our stories with other Christchurch locals, NZ visitors and everyone from around the world.

Christchurch City Libraries: Richard Bedward Owen (1873-1948)
‘Rich Man, Poor Man, Environmentalist, Thief’ By Richard Greenaway
Richard Bedward Owen, on R.T. Stewart’s river sweeper
Avonside Girls’ High School
Avonside Girls’ can stay longer
Weta Digital
Imagination Station
Code Club Aotearoa
The VR Room
The Mind Lab
Ministry of Awesome
Callaghan Innovation
Interactive Exhibition Specialists (IES)
Nigel Ogle’s Tawhiti Museum, Hawera