I had two very positive days last week meeting with community sector groups in Porirua and in Nelson. It was great to hear some positive stories from people who are leading change in these places, and to realise how much great work is going on despite the recession, the Government and the hard times since the earthquake.
In Porirua the Mayor (my tour guide Nick Leggett) is 31 years old and the Deputy Mayor Liz Kelly is tangata whenua. A quick glance at local government statistics will show how unusual this is. Porirua City Council is an active partner with some great initiatives such as three I visited: Trash Palace, Pacific Health Services, and Pataka Gallery.
Trash Palace is adding 30 years to the life of the Porirua landfill, employing a range of people with illnesses and disabilities, and educating the next generation about resource recovery. Their Manager Elizabeth Caluzzi (‘Queen Elizabeth’) is a wonderful advocate for the multiple benefits of valuing ‘trash’, and valuing people.
Pacific Health Services is facing cuts from the PHO, which is false economy as they have the people and the skills to reach a vulnerable population and inspire then to be healthy. I don’t believe the hospital model can achieve the same success they have.
The Pataka Gallery is a world class art gallery and as well as a lively and valuable community venue.
Its no wonder Porirua has won several ‘International Liveable Communities’ awards. It’s not like they’ve got no issues but at least their Council and communities are talking the same language about community-led development.
In Nelson, I spoke with the large community of practitioners working on disability support who make up the New Zealand Disability Support Network, at their first ever national conference. Their challenge to the politicians is clear. They want a coherent plan to ensure the New Zealand Disability Strategy is properly resourced and implemented. I couldn’t agree more.
I also met with Penny Molnar, a community development leader and nurse who is part of the great work at Victory Village. Victory Village is an example of how to combine a Health Centre and a Primary School to build a stronger community. Their innovative practice has been recorded in a very interesting report called Paths of Victory and a national forum is being held at Victory Village in April.
These two days reminded me that despite cuts and catastrophes we have some exceptional strength in the flaxroots and the grassroots and we need to back them up with both resources and respect.