The institution that would eventually become Whitireia grew out of a need to support the community of Porirua with options for education and upskilling as the employment prospects in the region began to change
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the people of Porirua were largely dependent on Todd Motors as a source of employment. As the plant began to run down in the late 1970s and early 1980s it became apparent that many in the community would need to reskill or upskill through education in order to find more stable work. While a number of employment-based and tertiary-level courses were offered across the Porirua region, the providers were ill-equipped for the demand in the area and most people had to travel to Wellington City or the Hutt Valley for further education and training.
The Minister of Education at the time, Russell Marshall, said it was "inadequate and unacceptable" that such a substantial Wellington community was "not being served on-site by an own-your-own, do-it-yourself, stand-alone facility."
A senior tutor from what was then Wellington Polytechnic compiled a case for a new tertiary institution in Porirua, and the report received widespread support. Proponents of the plan included Porirua mayor Whitford Brown, councillors Eric McKenzie and Ned Nathan, New Zealand Nurses’ Association representative Margaret Faulkner, trade unionist Rob Campbell, John Tamahori from the Department of Māori Affairs, former Mana College principal Doug Day, Kāpiti councillor Mac Clunie, Tawa councillor Roy Mitchell, and Ngāti Toa kaumātua.
In May of 1985, Minister Marshall announced to a meeting of Porirua community leaders that a "community college" would open its doors in early 1986 on reclaimed land gifted by Ngāti Toa. A public meeting was then held, where the make-up of the college council was established. In September, Labour Department executive officer Tino Meleisa was elected to lead the council, the first Pacific Island chair of any tertiary sector council in New Zealand, while Wellington High School principal Turoa Royal, of Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Raukawa descent, was considered "a natural and inspired choice for foundation principal."
Prior to 1985, there were a number of smaller private training providers in the Porirua area, some of which were later absorbed into Parumoana Community Polytechnic/Whitireia. Two secretarial courses were taught in premises at Mana College, the Maraeroa Carving School run by Lou Keropa taught whakairo at Maraeroa Marae in Waitangirua, the Skills Centre on Prosser Street also provided training, and Champion House a statehouse at 200 Champion Street in Cannons Creek, taught work skills.
Since 1979 or 1980, Champion House had been an outpost of Wellington Polytechnic, running various pre-employment government initiatives: YPTP (Young Persons Training Programme), TOPS (Training Opportunities Programmes), STEPS (School-Leavers Employment Preparation Scheme), Access and WASS. Champion House communications tutor, George Packard, was just one of the Champion House staff to join Whitireia, and would later help found the music department.
Jan Walker, who would later become the director of the Whitireia Faculty of Business and Technology, recalls that there was little contact between the different providers: "In our secretarial course we used to have a tutor who came out on Thursday, and in the morning he taught life skills to the carving students at Maraeroa. In the afternoon he taught life and hobby skills to the secretarial students. Apart from that, there was no linkage between any of us. None whatsoever. We all operated in complete isolation."
And so we completed
The Circle of time
The beginners, the starters
The passers through
The forever people
Who like the tide
Go and then return
And touch for just a time
Champion House has been that
The mould. The moulder
The model. The artist
And now it is in the Forever