(Image: Stewart Sowman-Lund, additional design: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Stewart Sowman-Lund, additional design: Tina Tiller)

PartnersSeptember 22, 2023

The work to build back a small North Island town

(Image: Stewart Sowman-Lund, additional design: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Stewart Sowman-Lund, additional design: Tina Tiller)

In a small town in the Bay of Plenty, a community trust is improving health, education, housing and career opportunities with the help of Z Energy. Liam Rātana tells the story of Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Hauora.

The small North Island town of Kawerau doesn’t often get much attention. It’s the last stop on a railway line running from Hamilton and the first on a track to Murupara. The former home of the Tasman paper mill, the town was built in the 1950s around the job opportunities this factory would bring, then in 2021, the mill shut down. 

Now, for most travellers the town exists as a thoroughfare between Whakatāne, Rotorua, and maybe Tauranga to the north. A closer look at the small settlement along State Highway 34 shows a town filled with smiling faces and people who are proud to be from this rural, predominantly Māori community, and who want to see the town and its people thrive.

Someone familiar with a lot of those faces is Dr Peta Ruha, Tumuwhakarae (CEO) for Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Hauora. The trust is a Kawerau-based health, education and social service provider, mandated by the local iwi, that has been serving the community for over 27 years. From prenatal care, youth programmes, and traditional healing workshops through to workforce development programmes, the charitable trust has its fingers on the pulse of the community’s health. 

“We’re in the health and wellbeing sector, aiming to uplift our community’s health. We’ve been mandated to cater to the healthcare needs of our people, emphasising care and support. We’ve got to ensure the health and wellbeing of our people and create a pathway leading forward,” Ruha says.

Another Kawerau local familiar to many in the community is the store manager of Z Kawerau, Trish Elliot. Having been born and bred in Kawerau, Elliot knows the raft of challenges faced by the community. Being a central hub in the town, Trish says her staff have just about seen it all.

A Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Hauora poi atua exhibition. Poi atua is a practise designed to help reconnect with Te Ao Māori and support healing (Images: Supplied)

Z Kawerau has a unique relationship with Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Hauora. Although you might think the organisations are worlds apart, the team at Z Kawerau play an integral role in helping to identify the needs of the local community. From those who might need a kai parcel delivered through to emergency interventions, Ruha acknowledges the value of having a strong relationship with Z and vice-versa.

“The partnership we have is critical in terms of being able to provide immediate support and early intervention in terms of hauora,” says Ruha.

Recounting an emotional story where Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Hauora quickly stepped in to assist a young girl who walked into her store late at night, visibly distressed and in need of help, Elliot explains why the Kawerau community needs to have a better understanding of the services provided by the trust. 

“I rang the police and the ambulance and there was no action for three hours. I finally picked up the phone and rang Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Hauora. They had someone there in 10 minutes,” Elliot says.

Organisations such as Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Hauora are exactly who Z is looking to support through its Good in the Hood regional boost initiative. Good in the Hood is Z’s flagship community programme, which gives away a share of $1 million to local groups across Aotearoa every year, with the organisation on track to exceed $10 million in total donations since its inception in 2011. 

The regional boost initiative arose after internal discussions at Z about how to best support the communities who needed it most across the Z station network. After looking across the network and analysing the index of deprivation, it was decided that additional funds would be donated to community groups across Kaikohe, Kaitaia and Kawerau, with local retailers deciding on which organisations would be supported. When Z Kawerau retailers Dave and Lynette Gillies found out about the initiative, they asked their team for suggestions on who to support, and that’s when store manager Trish Elliot proposed the trust.                

However, for everyone involved, the relationship goes far beyond a financial one, or the coffee the Z team serves to the trust’s team leaders every morning.

“They can also assist us with networking through the relationships they have nationally,” says Ruha. “It’s a space where we can transform both their capability and capacity and ours, in terms of hauora, to better meet the needs of our community and our people.”

With over 65 staff and three main sites, Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Haoura offers a range of services for a variety of different age groups. These range from delivering clinical services to the community considering the current GP shortage in Kawerau, supporting the taiohi wanting to transition into work through wraparound support services, and a stream of services for those aged from zero to 60 years old which are predominantly funded by the Ministry of Health.  

Each site serves a specific purpose within the wider network of support being offered by the trust, which was initially established to ensure that iwi members had easier access to services that assisted with their healthcare needs. 

“Our services also support whānau to transition home and to live thriving lives on their own land, amongst their own people,” says Ruha.

Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Hauora and Z staff (Image: Supplied)

The holistic approach taken by Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Hauora to improve the wellbeing of its community is evident, with the desire to improve outcomes for their people being the very essence of the kaupapa and services they provide.

By being a part of the community which they serve, Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Hauora are uniquely positioned to understand the needs of their people. This speaks to the heart of Z’s Good in the Hood initiative which is designed to support community organisations in our local communities, enabling them to do more mahi (work) more effectively.  

“We’ve got to leave the health and wellbeing of our people in better hands moving forward, so succession is critical in terms of creating communities that are thriving, rather than surviving,” says Ruha.

“One of the unique developments in this region is that we’re part of an alliance. It’s about collaborating for the betterment of our communities,” explains Ruha. This alliance involves multiple local organisations that have joined forces to uplift the community and Ruha acknowledges the need to include other organisations that traditionally sit outside of what is considered to be a typical health service provider.

Beautiful view of the Tarawera River in Kawerau, New Zealand (Image: Getty)

As they look to continue this commitment to the community and their holistic approach, the funds being donated by Z will be put towards increasing the hours offered by the one GP in Kawerau and also towards training more builders who can help to address the homelessness issues within the community. 

And while that funding for extra resources to help their community is a welcome boost, for Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau Hauora, the support goes far deeper than that. 

“It’s not just about the money, but the relationships that come with it,” says Ruha. “They also have business expertise and pathways that we can guide our rangatahi into through this relationship.”

For the locals of Kawerau, including Ruha and the team at the Z station there, the town’s wellbeing is front and centre. When the paper mill shut down, the future of Kawerau seemed uncertain, but with people like Ruha fighting to bring resource and support to the small town, right now it feels very much like it’s in safe hands.

To learn more about Good in the Hood and how you can vote for your favourite local community group, go to https://www.z.co.nz/about-z/what-we-stand-for/community/good-in-the-hood/ 

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