Good vibes and sweet baking at the Dixon Street Flats café

The tenant café at Wellington’s Dixon Street flats has been going great guns since it started in September, with a range of activities and services operating out of the café on Thursday lunchtimes.


The café is run weekly in the common room on the top floor of Dixon Street flats – a post that offers some of the best views in Wellington. Residents of the building, many of whom are older people, really enjoy coming to the café each week to connect and chat with their neighbours.

Food for the café is usually donated by Kaibosh Food Rescue, but they have been closed since the November earthquakes, so St Johns Church and Housing New Zealand have been providing refreshments for the past few weeks. Housing New Zealand’s Case Manager for the Dixon Street complex, Sara Calman, has even been doing baking for the café – often with the help of trusty sidekick Helen, who has lived at the complex for three years.

Music is a big part of the weekly café. With two pianos and various other instruments, there is always a dynamic and creative atmosphere. Sara is always touched to see how the atmosphere brings out the best in the tenants.

“It’s hard to capture the feeling that it creates when they play, they are full of energy and make the environment feel celebratory and inclusive. Some tenants say they come up especially to hear the piano played. Some tenants sing along to the songs on the piano,” she says.

And some residents have truly amazing skills – for example, the multi-talented Chris.

“Chris regularly plays the piano. He is amazing on it and wonderful to listen to. He’s doing Grade 8 music at Victoria University and is a skilled musician. He can also play the Indian sitar! I discovered this when I visited him at his flat and saw it there; I suggested he bring it up to play at the café. He did and it was brilliant.”

As well as music and food, the tenants regularly do the Dominion Post daily quiz together, and appoint a quiz champion each week, based on their contribution to the quiz.

Sara is proud of the difference the café is making to residents’ lives and how it reduces the risk of isolation, especially for older tenants. She has been moved by the enthusiasm of the tenants in making the café their own over the couple of months it’s been running:

“The really cool thing about the café is how everyone gets in and contributes what they can. Tenants are donating items for the café: milk jugs, teaspoon holders, a couch, spatulas, they all seem to want to contribute.”

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