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The New Plymouth Women's Centre was the first of about twenty women's centres established throughout New Zealand in the s and s as part of the second wave of feminism. Run by collectives of volunteers, sometimes with paid co-ordinators, these centres provided a safe and supportive environment for all women, and offered a wide range of services and resources, from drop-in facilities to self-help courses, workshops, and support groups. Centres also often acted as an umbrella for other women's groups.
Finding permanent premises and funding could be a major challenge for women's centres, whose feminist programme sometimes counted against them. In May the Centre was established in an old house belonging to the New Plymouth City Council, which was still its landlord in Soon the Centre had to move to another council property, where a large rates bill meant two years of continuous fundraising. From to the Centre was based rent-free in the city's first community house, moving to permanent space in the new community house in During the early years a recurring worry of members was the perceived under-use of the Centre.
Many of the activities organised to remedy this became part of the Centre's regular programme, which included courses such as Self-esteem and Assertiveness for Women, Creative Visualisation, and Communication with Children; discussion groups and guest speakers; pro-woman counselling; exhibitions of women's creative work; and social activities.
The Centre also provided an information and referral service to other agencies, a reference library, childcare for women attending centre activities, a monthly newsletter, and meeting rooms and support for other New Plymouth women's groups. In the Centre had 50 subscribing members, and an estimated women were using it each year. Over the years the Centre faced recurring tensions among members.
Initially debate focused on whether to adopt a radical or a conservative stance; the temptation to compromise the Centre's aims in order to attract funding was, however, firmly rejected. While individual lesbians became members and, at times, employees, many lesbians felt more comfortable socialising outside the Centre. This controversy led to the withdrawal of Department of Social Welfare funding — a major source of income.