10 Questions with Simon Wilson


Q1: You’ve got a really big day job at the Herald and so accepting the invitation to write this book must have given you pause. Why did you decide to take it on?

I knew about the building and the aspirations of the Mission. As a journalist, I was in there when Jacinda Ardern announced the funding that gave the Mission board the confidence to build HomeGround. And I was attracted to the prospect of being able to write about social issues and architecture and environmental issues all in one big piece, focused on a real thing, rather than just an idea. All of that came together really well for me. And I hoped I would meet some inspirational people and learn from them.

Also, it was a jump off the deep end, which I like doing. I would, I hoped, be interviewing people I don’t usually cross paths with: HomeGround residents and other Mission clients. And I had no idea if I’d be able to write a book alongside my day job, but I really wanted to find out.

Q2: The book’s subtitle is ‘The story of a building that changes lives’. How does it do that?

HomeGround gives the people who live there a degree of security and support they may not have had before in their lives, or not have had for a long time. It also functions as a beacon for the much larger group of people in the Mission’s ambit: it says to everyone, you can be helped and supported, you do not need to believe all is lost. You can be seen and valued.

Q3: Is there one word you could use to describe the people you encountered?


Q4: Go on then, how about four other words?

Courageous, determined, wise. Full of love. More than four, sorry.

Q5: The architecture is, of course, remarkable, leading-edge and award-winning. What struck you about the engagement with the project of the architects, Nick Stevens and Gary Lawson?

Nick and Gary are pretty remarkable people. They’ve been in this from the start, and stayed in. They have the confidence to back themselves, and the humility to know and value that they’re part of something much larger. They jumped off the deep end too, with their architectural concepts, and with the way they worked with their client. I love their story about how they won the original competition: the model, the chairs in a circle, the immensely important contribution of Rewi Thompson.   

Q6: And what struck you about the outcome of its codesign with Ngāti Whatua?

One of the many remarkable things about HomeGround is that you can look at it and you kind of feel there are some Māori influences at work. The decorative styling isn’t hard to spot. But the more you look, the more you see: the colours, the tukutuku patterned girders, the sense of a wharenui, and most of all the wairua of the place.

Stevens Lawson, as it happens, designed Graham Tipene’s own home at Takaparawhau, and the relationship between them was clearly lively, creative and deeply respectful.

Q7: One of the book’s features is your interview with two of the tenants, Lisa-Marie Peerdemen and Ivan Tipu. They hadn’t long moved in. Did you get a sense of the impact the building was having on them?

Lisa-Marie and Ivan are very different people and I think the building, as it should, is working on them and for them in very different ways. For her, it’s a place to blossom, as you can see in her work in the rooftop garden. It also offers her a very strong framework, which allows her to push and pull in all directions, knowing she is supported. Ivan seeks more of a refuge. I was immensely impressed by both of them: loving people, vulnerable and with very difficult lived experiences, and both of them incredibly smart.

I was inspired, enormously, by everyone I interviewed for this book. But they really blew me away. 

Q8: Many, many Aucklanders helped build HomeGround through their donations. They should be proud?

At the Mission they say this is Auckland’s building, and it’s true. Donations of money, goods and services, political support, social support, all of it, made this building and therefore the work in it possible. It’s a fine thing the people of this city have done.  

Q9: Now you have looked into it, is this the model that should and could be rolled out elsewhere?

Definitely. In Aotearoa we have lagged behind other countries in the provision of housing first services. But the approach enjoys bipartisan political support, it’s clear it works, and now we need more.

One of the ironies of HomeGround is that it attracts people wanting to use its services. There may be more homeless people in Auckland because of it. Whangārei needs an equivalent. Hamilton needs one. All the cities. And in Auckland itself, the other providers, including Kainga Ora, now need to build their network, so the whole approach spreads through the city. So much to do.

Q10: And with urgency?

So much to do.