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Skills and purpose flourish among the foliage

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An organic nursery that gives people purpose and opportunity to learn horticultural skills is flourishing in Porirua. It is particularly keen to help anyone who has left school without qualifications or who has a disability and has found the employment doors shut in their face.

Te Rito Gardens runs from the former Porirua Hospital site off Kenepuru Drive, near Kenepuru Hospital.

Co-ordinator and trustee, Steve Wilson, previously a commercial photographer, manages the site . Steve says there is a significant group of people who aren’t ready for serious learning until their 20s.

Steve Wilson, left, and volunteer, Bob, among the plants. Bob, who is retired, found the nursery through Volunteer Porirua and enjoys helping out twice a week.

They usually leave school without qualifications, often having been written off by their teachers.

But when they reach their 20s, they can be ready for learning and employment opportunities.

Unfortunately, without those opportunities, they can go down the path of alcohol and drug dependence, mental health issues and sometimes end up in prison,” Steve says.

The primary aim for participants is the daily routine that provides purpose, is productive, teaches horticultural skills and gives them something to talk about when they go home.

For some, it has also led to full-time employment.

Those who want to learn skills attend as volunteers, training in a real workplace environment. There is no limit on how long they can stay.

For those at Te Rito, the routine of coming to the nursery, doing what the boss says and working with others as a team can be life changing on the journey to employment.

Every day they help with weeding, propagation, tidying up and growing food in the organic gardens.

People between jobs are also welcome.

Being at Te Rito is open-ended.

So when they are ready they can make the jump [into paid work]. They can come back anytime if they need to,” Steve says.

Steve says the impact on families of volunteers can be significant because of the daily routine and being productive.

Success stories

Several volunteers have found permanent work. One woman, who had been made redundant, came to Te Rito and through that was offered full-time work.

Another was a youth who left school with no qualifications. After several years at Te Rito he found full-time work on the Transmission Gully project.

Another has found employment at the local freezing works.

Every Thursday morning Literacy Porirua runs a session to improve reading and writing skills. Those volunteers who attend are researching horticulture-related topics that include myrtle rust, wild ginger eradication and animal pests.

Steve Wilson with two volunteers who also take part in Literacy Porirua’s weekly sessions at the nursery.

Te Rito is a social enterprise co-operative run by the asert-Tātou Development Trust to grow organic vegetable seedlings and native plants and make wood products from sustainably sought timber.

Asert is assert deliberately misspelt as a nod to the learning disabilities many people have.

It also stands for acceptance, strength, energy (the sun), resources given and trust (established in people).

Tātou means we or us.

Steve says the nursery is about people asserting themselves – to get there and participate.

Getting people into paid work

Te Rito was formed, in 2010, by trustees from around the Wellington region with the aim of providing positive activities that could help people get into work.

Steve says that 20 or 30 years ago there were plenty of jobs for unskilled school leavers but that has changed. The trustees saw a need for somewhere people could learn skills in a working environment that could lead to paid work elsewhere.

The nursery’s name is symbolic of the harakeke (flax), one of the few plants that protects its new shoots and an important plant for creating windbreaks, such as around a vegetable garden, and as homes for insects, including lizards.

Te Rito specialises in riparian and restoration native plants, which are also suitable for lower North Island urban gardens. It also has an extensive collection of groundcovers and other amenity plants.

Te Rito also grows plants for local schools and for restorative plantings in the Porirua catchment, which the Wellington Regional Council pays for.

The nursery is open for sales between 9 am and 3 pm Mondays to Fridays and by appointment.

Steve says the trust is grateful for the support given by Porirua City Council. The council’s waste minimisation and graffiti reduction departments have been supportive from the beginning.

Subject to finding funding, in the next year, Te Rito hopes to move to a nearby site in Raiha Street that the city council has set aside for it.

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More information:

To go to the Te Rito Gardens website click here

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