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Hutt City Council takes lead on ending generational poverty

These children are the face of Empowering Tamariki. Photo by Mark Tantrum/ Hutt City Council
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Empowering children is the focus of an ambitious city council-led programme in Lower Hutt to make generational change where it is most needed.

Local government can make a huge difference to the lives of the people it serves and, in Lower Hutt, its city council is determined to give a hand up in areas of high deprivation.

Spearheading the plan is Matt Reid, general manager city and community services for the Hutt City Council. He’s responsible for community services and city infrastructure.

The focus on children from Hutt City’s highest deprivation communities, including Pomare, Taita, Naenae and Stokes Valley, is through a programme called Empowering Tamariki.

Bringing generational change

“Three out of five people in high deprivation generally stay in that way of living for life,” Matt says.

Our challenge is how to break that.  We hope to grow kids’ learning ambitions and aspirations.”

For many, they are unable to access transport, technology, sports, the arts or extended learning opportunities.

In the target area up to 45 per cent of people don’t have access to the internet and 20 per cent don’t have access to a vehicle.

“We hope to grow kids’ learning ambitions and aspirations,” says Matt Reid

Equal opportunities

The philosophy is that everyone who lives, works and plays in the city of Lower Hutt will have access to the same opportunities.

Matt is particularly pleased that changes being made to the Local Government Act will restore a focus on wellbeing to the legislation that councils work under.

“Local leadership works. The government is kidding themselves if they think they can do it alone,” Matt says.

Essential to Empowering Tamariki is that it’s based on hand-ups and not hand-outs. Matt says that values are essential and he talks of the values required for kids to enjoy the ‘Magic Cards’ that provide free access to some council services.

Printed on the back of the cards are those values:

We care for ourselves,

we care for places

and we care for each other.

Lower Hutt has a proud history of caring for its citizens. And while, along with the rest of the greater Wellington region, its average household incomes are among the highest in the country, there are significant pockets of serious deprivation.

Artist, Joe McMenamin, and six Naenae College art students, painted this mural in Naenae as part of a plan to reinvigorate communal spaces

In those areas, household incomes simply have not kept up with the cost of living.

My personal view is that things have got worse over the decades,” Matt says.

He says that rent is a challenge for many and owning a home a pipedream.

Empowering Tamariki has been led by Mayor, Ray Wallace, and his councillors.

In Lower Hutt the council acknowledges change is something it cannot do alone. It has reached out to form partnerships with business, trusts and central government.

It’s that broad partnership which Matt believes can extend success further.

The nuts and bolts

Key components of the Empowering Tamariki vision include:

  • Integrating community development into every aspect of the council’s work.
  • Reallocating the budget and talent to where the need is greatest.
  • Opening the new Walter Nash Centre, now a community hub for health, wellbeing and community activities.
  • Establishing YOUth Inspire in Wainuiomata, Naenae and Taita and placing more than 600 youth in education, training and, mostly, employment since 2013.
  • Opening two computer clubhouses, in Naenae and Taita.
  • Adopting a new community funding strategy that is predominantly focused on addressing inequality – for the tamariki and rangatahi, and the elderly.
  • Partnering with the local Goodtime Music Academy to provide scholarships for tamariki to give them access to music lessons.
  • Engaging locals and artists to reinvigorate communal spaces through art.
  • Establishing a new community hub in Stokes Valley that combines the library, toy library, hall, Plunket and community house under one roof.
  • Progressing the Fraser Park sport and community hub.
  • Begun planning for community hubs in Naenae and Wainuiomata.

And there is much more to come.

The Walter Nash Centre, in Taita, is a community hub for health, wellbeing and community activities

The first two hubs to open in Lower Hutt are Taita and Stokes Valley

Measuring the social return

The council engaged professionals to attempt to measure the social return on the money spent through Empowering Tamariki.

Matt expected that for every dollar put into the YOUth Inspire programme there might be a saving of $3 or $4 through less antisocial behaviour, less vandalism to public places, and fewer people needing to live on state benefits.

He was delighted to see the results are showing a return of $11.60 per dollar of spending.

As part of the professional cost-benefit analysis for services with a social value, focus groups were conducted.

Matt said the professionals’ report said the benefits were higher than the average of ratios found in studies of similar initiatives and believed they were “directly related to the life-changing nature of the positive change YOUth Inspire service users experienced and the distinctive approach YOUth Inspire has taken.”

The report also attributed the results to the level of support from the council, community leaders including the mayor, and business owners and “passionate” managers and staff who went above and beyond their assigned responsibilities to help young people.

Partnering

Matt also chairs the Taka (Te Awa Kairangi Access) Trust through which some of the changes are being delivered in partnership with central government and business.

In partnership with Chorus, Network for Learning and the Ministry of Education, secure and managed wifi is being installed in 125 Naenae homes that don’t have the internet to support children’s school studies.

The Trust also issued ‘Magic Cards’ which give 800 tamariki from schools in the target area free access to council pools, council internet, library book issues, printing and the like.

And the future vision?

The council hopes to expand Empowering Tamariki to all children in the city who could benefit from it.

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For more information:

To read more about Empowering Tamariki click here

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