The charity running the Māngere Markets makes close to half a million a year from a business centred on a publicly owned carpark, but distributes less than a third of its income in grants. That’s left some locals wondering whether the trust could be doing more to support the community, writes Justin Latif.
Nothing quite beats the sensory overload at Māngere’s Saturday morning markets. Pungent aromas of fresh fruit and vegetables combine with whiffs of hot coffee and deliciously oily donuts, while sound systems blare Pacific beats and stallholders holler out their best deals.
A weekly trip to the Māngere Town Centre car park is a much-loved ritual for many in the community, not only as a time to stock up the pantry, but to also catch up on the latest gossip. And it’s all made possible by The Māngere Market Trust, which, according to its website, distributes “all profits” in order to help the “people of Māngere to achieve more”.
And yet the trust has accumulated unspent funds of more than $1.5 million since it was established in 2008, predominantly from the rental of sites to market sellers, according to documents published on the charity services website. Over the last five years, the trust has brought in $2.2 million, and spent $1.7 million, giving out almost $550,000 in grants, roughly a quarter of its income.
The trust’s chairperson is Sylvia Taylor, who is well known to many in the area, having served as both a Manukau City councillor, and Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board member. She also received a Queen’s Service Medal in 2014 for her services to the community.
I give her a call to get a clearer picture. When I reach her, she’s actually in the car and can only provide a brief overview, but she’s clear – the majority of the money received goes to locals.
“Our main aim of the market is to look after our area,” she says. “And the money we get from the market predominantly goes to the Māngere region. People spend it there and we give it back. We assist schools in a lot of areas, with sporting equipment, iPads for schools.”
What other examples does she have?
“We just bought an ambulance and we were really pleased about that. It’s a state-of-the-art, top-notch vehicle. Māngere doesn’t get much in the way of the best of everything. We’d prefer for it to be stationed in Māngere, but it could be stationed anywhere and it can get called out anywhere. We’ve also given a lot of money to groups like Auckland City Mission, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Starship. Over the years we’ve contributed a lot to support our community.”
That’s five large charities with a nationwide or Auckland-wide focus. Local? She does go on to mention that a key part of the trust is to support the Māngere Town Centre. If you’re not familiar with this place, it’s 49 years old, and it’s definitely seen better days.
My daughters and I often go for a stroll through the town centre it after I pick them from school. There’s a library, takeaway joints selling ice cream and deep-fried foods, a stage for the zumba classes, a plethora of $2 shops touting flimsy imported goods, butcheries where you can buy a whole pig and vege shops selling popular staples like taro and green bananas. Faded friezes of flowers adorn chipped pillars around the centre, while lichen seems to be building up on sections of the clear roofing overhead, yet the rain still seems to get through to the centre’s flooring tiles, making them dangerously slippery.
Taylor says the trust’s role includes keeping the town centre looking good.
“Part of our work is to support our BID [business improvement district], which is the Māngere Town Centre, so keeping the area in a good condition. On the whole, most of the money that we get from the markets goes back into the community, and that’s rare for that to happen.”
I ask about the accumulated funds, which totals $1,597,804, according to the 2019 audited performance report.
“We don’t throw our money willy-nilly around,” she says. “There may come a time that we need money for the community, and so at least we will have an investment that we can still supply the community, rather than flog it all off every time it comes in. Even though this money is there, it doesn’t mean we have to get rid of it. We’re a private trust. It’s saved for a rainy day. We plan ahead, we think seriously about every donation that we make.”
And the expenses? I ask why the trust spends between 70 and 75% of its income on running the markets.
“Nearly all of the expenses are actually for Auckland Council,” she explains. “It’s part and parcel of what you do when running a business.”
In 2019, rent for using the Māngere Town Centre car park was $79,500, but they also spend not insignificant chunks on wages for security ($20,672), salaries for staff ($41,190), cleaning ($24,038) and $18,900 for accountancy and secretarial services, which according to the auditor’s report, was provided by Kensyl Holdings Limited, a company owned by Ken and Sylvia Taylor, who are the secretary and chairperson respectively.
Given Taylor was in the car when I first made contact, I follow up with an email so she could clarify who the local organisations that the trust has funded are, but I got this response:
This is a private trust and how we distribute our funds are the sole responsibility of the trustees as prescribed in our constitution.
Information of who we make donations to are private to the Trust and the groups we make grants to. We will not compromise this confidentiality.
Regards, Ken Taylor
That will be little comfort, however, to community groups and schools struggling to fund their essential activities, for whom a slice of the $1.5 million currently sitting in the trust’s bank account could make a real difference.
A spokesperson for the Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board said that while the local board does not have a say on how the markets are run, it would like to see more money given to locals. “Our local board’s preference is to see more of these funds invested in our local organisations who largely serve and support the communities of Māngere-Ōtāhuhu.”
Councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins, who was last year named as a liaison between the council-controlled organisation Panuku Development and the Auckland Council, said he would like to see operating licences to run markets granted to groups that can show they are providing optimal benefit to their local community.
“Our markets provide an essential service in our communities as a place to shop and socialise. While I realise the commercial licences for these markets don’t specify how operators use their profits, perhaps Panuku should consider how these council-owned car parks are used, so our local communities get the maximum benefit from them.”
According to Panuku, a new commercial operating licence to run this market is set to be negotiated and it is open to any organisation to apply.
“Panuku had planned to commence discussions with the local board this year re the terms of the new licence, however this was significantly disrupted due to Covid-19, which means we are not yet in a position to commence the new market licence process,” a Panuku spokesperson said. “However, in the interim if anyone was interested in obtaining further information they are welcome to contact Panuku’s property portfolio department through our website.”
There is certainly interest. Māngere residents Mia King and Toni Helleur have run the Māngere Cultural markets on Thursday nights over the last two summers and are very interested in the possibility of bringing their unique approach to the Saturday slot. The pair who run a local charitable trust, along with their own respective businesses, say they really respect what the current operators of the Saturday markets have been able to achieve but would love to see the markets used more creatively to encourage budding entrepreneurs.
“We love markets and we would love to know how we could be a part of the process,” said King. “As soon as we heard, which was a year and half ago, that it may be up for tender we were looking out for any advertising but council hasn’t been forthcoming about what that process would look like.”
Helleur said one key area they would like to see the market focus on is developing the local entrepreneurs in the area.
“We’d love to bring our expertise, our skillset, and our community nous and swag to develop this market to benefit everyone inside our whole community. Over the last two years we’ve seen many of the stallholders who use our market as a way to test run their products and through that they’ve been able to develop their businesses. So we’d love to see these Saturday markets used for the economic development of our community.”
Collins believes there could be a real opportunity here for Panuku to think more creatively how council-owned spaces are utilised to support communities like Māngere weather the oncoming economic headwinds.
“In these uncertain times, maybe markets like these can play a bigger part in empowering our community as a space for new entrepreneurs and creative enterprises to be developed, so they aren’t just about selling fruit and veges, but also showcasing the best of South Auckland’s burgeoning business talent,” he said.
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