Organisation guru cutting a deal with Santa

Sarah Lewis with her daughter Willow

Born a ‘Taffy’, raised a ‘Jafa’, a temporary ‘cockney’ and now a converted ‘Papamoan’, she is firmly and permanently embedded in Tauranga’s seaside suburb.

“Love the feeling,” says Sarah Lewis, the newly anointed events manager for Papamoa Unlimited – a promotional committee of Papamoa business owners and retailers. Sarah will run all the fun stuff for the promotion group.

“Lots of young families getting ahead. It’s nappy valley out here. Even trying to find a carpark for your baby buggy is a challenge. That’s cool.” She’s likeable, busy and funny and talks up Papamoa with all the zeal of a religious convert.

And to the faithful, like Sarah Lewis, Papamoa has quite a different culture to the Mount and its ‘Mounties’. They’re younger and life is more hectic. Not a dig. Just an observation.

Sarah is a picking up a portfolio of established and successful events –the Polar Plunge or mid-winter dip, the Hunt for Gold, a family adventure race and Pedal Papamoa, a cycle tour showcasing a stormwater trail through the suburb.

But she will stamp her mark on the traditional Christmas Santa Parade – it will become something else. “There are quite a lot of Santa parades in the region,” says Sarah. There’s an appetite for something different in Papamoa. “A celebration of our geography, featuring local talent and putting the focus back on The Plaza, the heart of the community.

Not too much detail – but here’s a hint. “I remember going to Christmas in the Park as a kid“ – the magical musical spectacular in Auckland’s Domain that pulls up to  a quarter of a million people, mostly families, each year. “It would be lovely to have something like that without the hassle of travelling to Auckland.”

The big thing for Sarah is the Christmas event and giving it profile. “Bethlehem has its ‘Night Before Christmas’ and it’s incredible. We don’t intend replicating it, but something like it on a smaller scale. That’s something we are looking at.”

And she’s just the person to make it happen. “A people and organisation guru,” says Papamoa Plaza manager David Hill. “We are fortunate to have her.”

And there’s proof of performance. Among other things, commercial general manager at New Zealand Rugby League; Tauranga City Council where she handled the major events fund and delivered the hugely successful Paradox Street Arts Festival; Queenstown’s Winter Festival; organising a pop-up baseball stadium for New Zealand’s new Tuatara Australian league franchise; and she’s dabbled with the Warriors rugby league team, the Breakers when they come to town, and 2.13 metres of Steve Adams. So negotiating with Santa over his Papamoa Plaza Christmas gig should be a doddle.

Sarah and two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Willow gave away the traffic snarls and exorbitant realty of Auckland for a seaside home office, beaches and horses at Papamoa.

“I spend half my time and half my money at Papamoa Plaza so I thought I may as well get involved, ingrain myself and deliver some fantastic community events.”

Rather than just being a shopping mall, The Plaza has become the heart of the community, a place where people gather.

“I have watched it evolve. It has become the new community centre,” says Sarah. “It is where people meet and talk. I love the fact you have a Doug Jarvis old-school butchery there, and the elderly meet there mid-morning for their coffee at Robert Harris. It’s good for your ego because it makes you feel really young.”  She says the whole space, including Fashion Island is fantastic. “That’s life now.”

And, says the lapsed Jafa, cum fun chief for Papamoa Unlimited, you only have to follow the Papamoa Facebook page to get a sense of the really strong community.  “I love that.”