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Poto House weathers storm

Boarding manager Stacey Grant worked throughout the lockdown and is glad things are returning to normal. PHOTO/ARTHUR HAWKES

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This time last year, Poto House was on the brink of collapse, but after a grassroots campaign – which led to a new board of trustees – it reopened, much to the delight of Wairarapa College and the region at large.

Going into 2020, the Poto team were optimistic after their “rise from the ashes”. Then covid-19 hit.

“We had a really good start to the year, numbers had been stronger than we anticipated as far as students and the hostel goes,” trust chairman Mike Higinbottom said.

“There had been a lot of changes, with a new setup in the kitchen and a new manager, and they’d all bedded in really well, things were getting into a smooth rhythm – and then covid came along!

“Just when we thought we were going to start to get a bit of breathing space we had something else to deal with.”

Poto House had to function as a standalone business to survive, so when it emptied out under the coronavirus crisis, their revenue was immediately called into question.

Luckily, the house was able to form an arrangement with parents and carers whereby they would keep paying fees throughout the lockdown, with any excess money left over, once costs were accounted for, being credited back to them.

Higinbottom said this kept their head above the water, leaving the house’s balance sheet “flat”.

“It’s been dealt with really well and has actually been a bit of an opportunity for management to get their feet firmly under the desk and have a look at some of the policy work, and to revamp it to suit the new running.

“We’re really feeling lucky that our students’ families were still able to stick with us.

“To be able to keep it continuing and growing has been hugely rewarding for the trustees: to back something and have the community back it too.”

Boarding manager Stacey Grant said that he had made clear to pupils how important it was to reclaim the routine and rigour required for good performance, despite the social side of school being sorely missed.

“I’ve said to the kids that it’s really important that things get back on track, as a lot of them were in the middle of term,” Grant said. “This is especially for our senior students with exams coming up.

“You can have all the restrictions in the world in place, but the hardest thing for them has been to not give and receive handshakes and hugs.

“The big thing for us is that Tranzit are looking at getting rid of a few of the routes, so it’s important for us to let people know that we are available, and also have casual boarding.”

At a time when many organisations are performing damage control, or looking to pick up the pieces of a brutal few weeks, Poto House is looking forward, and is in the market for a new 10- or 12-seat van to replace their existing white one, which is now showing its age.

“We feel that we’re in quite a strong spot,” said Higinbottom.

“We’re even looking to buy a new van, that’s the next big thing. The one we inherited as part of our lease is on its last legs, so we’re on the lookout for a late model, and we’ve got the reserves to be able to buy that.”


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