Sharon Williamson was recently awarded the FIH’s prestigious HRH Sultan Azlan Shah Award for outstanding contributions to hockey. The North Harbour stalwart was the driving force behind the world-class National Hockey Centre but she’s already looking at what’s next.
Sharon Williamson grew up with committee meetings in the lounge of the family home. She thought it was only natural you gave back to the sports you loved, so it was no surprise when she started to get involved in sports governance.
“I grew up with my parents (Bill and Marion Webb) chairing various sporting organisations in our lounge. That’s the environment I’ve grown up in, and all of our family has always given back. I’m really proud that both my daughters (Hannah and Madeleine) are coaching already and my husband John is a Hockey NZ Life Member through his own service.”
The third generation North Harbour Hockey administrator, following both parents and grandfather Cliff Smyth, was recently named as the recipient of the prestigious FIH’s HRH Sultan Azlan Shah Award for 2020 which recognises outstanding achievements and contributions to the development of hockey. It acknowledged Williamson as the driving force behind the new National Hockey Centre in Albany.
Many have commented that the centre would not be a reality today without her input, drive and commitment on top of the extraordinary number of hours over eight years to complete the project. But like any good stakeholder manager, she is quick to acknowledge others.
“I feel very humbled and I’m conscious of what a massive team effort it was. I think this award is firstly for all the people who stuck at it for eight years, and it’s also recognition of the hockey centre as a true world-class facility.”
Williamson, with a background in marketing, sponsorship and project management, laughs when she admits she isn’t quite sure how she ended up leading the project but says it was probably because she had a foot in both camps at the time, as Harbour Hockey Chair and a trustee of the Harbour Hockey Charitable Trust (HHCT).
Williamson praises former Hockey NZ Chief Executive Hilary Poole for getting them to believe what was possible.
“When we first started talking about it after the 2011 Champions Trophy, Hilary gave us the courage to think in a visionary way about the project. It quickly became a three-way partnership between HHCT, North Harbour Hockey and Hockey NZ, and over the next couple of years Hockey NZ brought Sport NZ to the table as a cornerstone funder which enabled us to enlist the support of other funders.”
Williamson also acknowledges Ian Francis, Hockey NZ’s Chief Executive from 2016, and fellow HHCT Trustee Sue Brewster, who both worked incredibly hard with funders who stuck with the project over the years, including Sport NZ, Foundation North, Auckland Council, NZCT and Lion Foundation.
A change of plans as motorway goes through site
The National Hockey Centre started off as an entirely different project. Originally planned as an upgrade of North Harbour’s former facility down the road, Williamson says it had already achieved resource consent and commitment from several funders when, in 2015, the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) advised it was going to put a motorway through the existing site.
“That certainly put a spanner in the works,” Williamson says. “We had to go back to the drawing board with NZTA and find a new site that would accommodate four turfs, a large building and more than 350 car parks.”
The centre has a three-pronged approach:
- As a community hub and the home of North Harbour Hockey’s growing 8000-strong community that play all year round, from year ones through to Masters
- A home and year-round training base for our Vantage Black Sticks
- A world-class facility to host tier one international events
Williamson, who was also awarded the Pakistan Trophy for outstanding contribution to the administration of hockey at the Hockey NZ Annual Awards in April, is most proud of the legacy the multi-use facility will provide.
“You only have to look at last week. We held the Olympic squad naming event in the pavilion with Black Sticks and media everywhere, while outside there was an intermediate school zone day going on with a couple of hundred kids cheering and screaming across four turfs.”
Juggling multiple stakeholders was by far the biggest challenge with so many parties involved.
“We were working with NZTA, design and construction people, Auckland Council, the Local Board and community stakeholders such as mana whenua and our neighbours. This was on top of the fact that two other sports – Rosedale Pony Club and North Harbour BMX – had to move as well, and we are indebted to them for this.
“We held working party meetings every Monday afternoon for years. And importantly, we worked out where we needed help and made sure we had the right people helping us.”
Some of those people included Simpson Grierson partner Michael Sage who volunteered hundreds of hours as did trustee Darryl Simpson who has overseen the building of every Harbour turf for the past 30 years.
While Williamson did a lot of the heavy lifting from a hockey perspective, she also wanted to acknowledge the tireless work of Harbour Hockey Chief Executive Riki Burgess, former Chair Kevin McPheat, and all the HHCT Trustees including Chair Peter Felstead.
What’s next for Williamson?
While the facility opened in time for the FIH Pro League matches in February 2020, Williamson says 2021 is the first year it has been fully operational due to Covid-19.
“It doesn’t feel like the job’s done quite yet. We’re still learning about the centre and working out how to optimise it as a community and national asset.”
For a woman who never seems to rest, she’s already thinking about what’s next.
“While turfs make hockey great to play and really exciting to watch, the downside is they make it expensive. We need to challenge ourselves to make hockey accessible to everyone.”
“And it’s fantastic how the centre is such a community and social hub, but in a region the size of North Harbour we also need to find other places to give people a great hockey experience without it being a big deal to get here in Auckland traffic.”
- Chair National Hockey Centre Governance Group
- Hockey New Zealand Board member from 2014
- Trustee and former Chair Harbour Hockey Charitable Trust
- Former Chair North Harbour Hockey Association
- Long-serving coach, manager and player