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Andrew Melville’s Story

"I've always liked my name," says Andrew Melville — writer, journalist, facilitator, storyteller, Morningsider, and all-round nice guy — by way of introduction.

"Not many people like their name, but I've always felt my name really represents me. Interestingly enough, my name also represents my philosophy of life, which is that I'm more about humanity, and humanity being connected.

"When I was a child, I was told Andrew meant manly. I didn't know what that meant. I thought manly was like tough guy. I didn't think I was that much of a tough guy, but later on in life I started to realise it didn't mean manly, but like 'humankind’. 'Androgonist' comes from the same root as Andrew, and that really represents what I care about. I care about humanity — and so I've got the right name."

And then our coffee arrives.

Our chat was slated for half an hour. It went for the full hour and could have gone longer. Andrew's that sort of human. Full of stories, ideas, views on life, experiences, all of it with the journalist's sharp eye, the writer's colour, the storyteller's eloquence, the facilitator's sense of pacing, where we are in the room, the moment. One of the best $4.50 I ever spent on a cup of coffee.

"My mother is from Yorkshire,” Andrew continues. "She emigrated to New Zealand in the 1950s. My father is an umpteenth generation Kiwi of Scottish heritage, so my last name is of Scottish heritage. They settled in the north around the Mahurangi harbour as boat builders, and then went on to farming."

In the lineage is a grandfather who went on to be the night editor of the Herald (journalism is often in the blood), and a great aunt, Ellen, who went on to be one of NZ's first women lawyers, and the first city councilwoman in the southern hemisphere.

"Or something," says Andrew, in case it's family legend. Except in this case there's hard evidence — the Ellen Melville Centre in High Street is named after her.

Andrew was working on a farm up north with his mates when he got a call from his dad one day to say, Why don't you do journalism?

"Why would I?" Said Andrew.

"I think you'd be pretty good at it," said his dad.

"Oh, all right then," said Andrew.

The rest is biography. Andrew was a journalist for Radio NZ and National Radio and then went on to handle communications and community relations for Bob Harvey (now Sir Robert) in Waitakere. At the same time, he was recognising the disconnect between the media, the government of the day, and the public. Only some sections of the community were engaged — mainly those that had the ability to use the old-school processes of submission forms and all the formalities of having a say. Andrew turned his creative and facilitator's attention to engaging more people.

"I think as a population we were getting more diverse," Andrew says.

"If you went back 30-odd years, what was covered in mainstream television, radio and newspapers would relate to most people's lifestyles. Not everybody, but if you were a teacher of 10-year-olds in a classroom, you could give an anecdote from family life that most of them would get. Move on to 20 years ago, 10 years ago, there would only be a small percentage of that classroom that would get that anecdote.

"We started to have a greater expectation of having a say, and the media only covered those people who had been given the responsibility to run the country."

These days Andrew lives a classic freelancer's life. He continues to write, and ghostwrite, from the odd speech to the odd book, mostly for people he cares about. He tries to do less of it because his real interest is facilitation.

"I find myself working in and around the Māori world a lot because I have built some relationships and affinities with that world view. Having been born here it seems to make the most sense of where I'm from. And I do that from a heart point of view rather than an intellectual point of view. I genuinely believe that Māori culture is the best thing that this country has to define the identity of this place."

A couple of years ago, Andrew decided to take time out to write a book about his experience and career, in developing community, iwi engagement and storytelling. The result was The Weave: The Surprising Unity in Difference, a book that encapsulates his original approach to engagement, which is as much about the intangibles of relational dynamics as it is a formal process.

"What I try to do more than anything is create an environment which isn't just solely about an intellectual process. It's all those intangibles that are going on, and communication, or interactions that we don't pay attention to."

His model draws on the warp and weft of the weaving process.

"The vertical strands, the warp, are the deeper values that we have — your values, your beliefs and your commitments, and your vision. Those are the big picture things ... They are our operating systems which really don't change — they are the physics of the universe.

"Through that is the weft. That's where you weave the more tangible things. That's the things you make, the actions you take, and the people you serve.

"If you weave things too tight and hold them too tight, then there's no flexibility. And if they're too loose, then they're full of holes."

We go on to talk about the fabric of the universe, and the tapestry of life, and other metaphors for existence that echo Andrew's weaving model. In the fabric of Andrew's particular part of the universe are a partner and three children and one grandchild, who all live off and on in Rossmay Terrace, where they have been for 25 years. Like many Morningsiders, Andrew is never quite sure which suburb he actually lives in. There are five to choose from, depending on who you are trying to impress.

And as for the changing nature of Morningside, Andrew is on board, if a little sad, and a little mournful. He still recalls the timber yard and train tracks for loading up from the sidings. And he recalls running into a couple of blokes at a community meeting in Kingsland years ago, and realising then that they were on a mission. They were Nigel and Blue, who would go on to start Crave.

"On a personal level, I'm not opposed to change,” Andrew says. “The area will gentrify, there's no two ways about that. And it's sad because you do lose a bit of character and diversity. I'm kind of curious to see. It's always sad when old things go. But we're a changing world and community, and if people are creating community as Crave is doing in the midst of that change, then it is what is."