Courage and initiative Our Planet People

Graffiti grandmas guard their patch


It’s not hard to see the visible difference two grandmothers have made in Porirua. Not to human beauty but to how the whole city looks.

Embarrassing eyesores called tagging, once visible from the rail corridor and on buildings, bridges and underpasses, have been painted over by the two Graffiti Guardians, Jay Marson and Karina Ratana.

The pair work fulltime from Monday to Friday checking favourite tagging hotspots and responding with brushes dipped in recycled concrete grey paint provided free by Resene.

But they say it is vital to not become complacent.

Tagging left alone will simply attract more,” they say.

Jay says there has been a huge response from locals who say their streets, walkways and alleyways are cleaner and safer.

She says the best part of their work is meeting people from all walks of life, helping youth and being outdoors each day.

Karina Ratana, left, and Jay Marson are winning the war on graffiti

Jay has given presentations about their work to high-powered conferences in Christchurch and Auckland.

Porirua City Council’s graffiti management co-ordinator, Richard Witheford-Smith, says the Graffiti Guardians’ work over the past 10 years “cannot be underestimated regarding keeping graffiti in Porirua in check.”

“The council team look after council-owned assets well but the rest of the city would be a real issue without this team’s efforts with both cleaning up and taking on mentoring of young people who have been involved in tagging.  Huge thanks for their mahi over the years.”

The beginnings of WAG

Graffiti Guardians is the more casual name for the Waitangirua Action Group (WAG).

WAG was formed in 2006 when a group of four women, including Jay and Karina, got together to do something for the Waitangirua community.

In 2007, WAG did a graffiti audit and the results were passed to Porirua City Council. Jay and Karina were volunteers for two years before being approached to do the graffiti audit.

WAG then put forward a proposal to the city council to wipe out graffiti in some parts of the city and, subsequently, obtained a contract for some of its assets.

One of the first buildings WAG tackled was in Mungavin Park that was completely covered in graffiti. Now painted white, it is an asset the community can be proud of.

Local alleyways were covered in graffiti. WAG had help from periodic detention workers to clean them up.

In 2009, WAG gained a contract with Wellington Electricity for graffiti removal from its power poles, utility boxes, sub-stations and small black pillar boxes.

Later, WAG gained a contract with Wellington City Council for its nearby suburbs of Tawa, Linden and Grenada South.

Graffiti clean-ups are recorded using this Stop Tags data system that can even show what taggers have caused the damage. This map shows the tags removed in Porirua by WAG (Graffiti Guardians) in 2016-2017.

The Porirua City Council contract includes park and ride carparks, many walkways and painting over tagging on some private properties where the owner gives consent.

Helping youth to change their mindset

Jay and Karina also attend meetings and court hearings relating to youths. They supervise youths completing community service hours to paint out tagging. Often those who are caught tagging are non-locals.

The women have learnt a lot from the youths about tag names and this makes it easier to decipher the names and identify the culprits.

Jay, “Aunty Jay” to many, says “I need to change their mindset about what they are doing.”

She tells them;

This is your home and this is how you are treating it.”

It’s this approach that she believes has helped the transformation in the city and vigilance that keeps the levels of graffiti low.

They also support police, Oranga Tamariki, WINZ, Porirua Healthy Safer City Trust, PCC, WCC, Corrections’ periodic detention, and social services, such as Challenge 2000 and local residents’ associations.

The challenges

Jay says the biggest challenges for Graffiti Guardians are sustainability, deterrence and how to encourage locals to adopt ownership of community assets.

This new fish habitat-themed mural by children from Rangikura School has transformed the previously-graffitied Kenepuru Stream Walkway under State Highway I between the Porirua Station park and ride and Memphan Place.

Several years ago, when on a contract for Housing New Zealand, they got local youth doing community service to paint new fences.

It gave the youth pride and tenants thanked them with juice and sandwiches.

Jay says these fences were never tagged because the youth were so proud of their work.

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