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Whangarei youth initiate unique partnership to improve their well-being

Youth space crew

In Northland, where many young people leave school before 17 and one in four are not in education, employment or training, a group of young people has taken action.

In 2012, a group of 10 young people talked to the local Whangarei District Council staff. They said they were sick of hearing bad stories about youth, wanted a place to meet and to have access to information about education, employment, housing and health.

The Whangarei Youth Space Youth Group was formed, in 2014, and the Whangarei Youth Space was set up with a youth-adult governance partnership.

General manager, Bernie Burrell, describes the youth-adult partnership as “pretty unique.”

The trust deed for Whangarei Youth Space requires half its board to be aged under 24.

Bernie says it is a different approach that the charitable trust is really proud of. She says the two age groups learn from each other.

The beautiful thing is that having young people at governance level makes sure the organisation is fit for purpose.”

“Fostering a sense of belonging is high on the priority list,” Bernie says.

A youth-adult partnership keeps it focused on the local young people it was set up to serve.

Ryan Donaldson says his experience helped shape what he wants for his future

Ryan Donaldson, who joined the board at 18, says his experience helped shape what he wants for his future.

“It supported me to think about the bigger picture, not only on an organisational level but in the way I reflect on my personal life and where I want to go as an individual.

“I was supported by a mentor who assisted me when I needed that extra support around things I didn’t fully understand or know. Having somebody I trusted that I could pick up the phone and have a genuine conversation about governance questions with was hugely beneficial for myself and my learning.”

Damien Clarke says serving on the trust was the perfect introduction to governance

Damien Clarke was 22 and a professional youth worker when he joined as a youth trustee.

He says it was a unique opportunity “to learn from the experience of those who had done it before but be valued for my own perspective – the perfect introduction to governance.

“It was because of this experience in eventually filling the role of deputy chair and some experience as a team leader in my day job that I had the confidence to successfully apply for the role I currently find myself in, programme manager at I Have a Dream Charitable Trust.”

Adult trustee Brent Martin is impressed with the youth trustees.

As an adult trustee I continue to be amazed at the thirst for learning of the youth trustees I have met. The maturity of youth today seems much higher than when I was their age!”

Someone to ‘have their back’

Bernie says many youth don’t have a significant supporting adult “who has their back” in their lives. Instead, for many, a youth worker will fill that role.

“For resilience a strong bond to a competent adult is very important.

“It’s about creating an environment of support, building trust, demonstrating positivity and helping with emotional regulation skill development,” Bernie says.

“If we can help them learn how to cope with setbacks it makes a much stronger individual.”

Working with young people is awesome, Youth Space staff say

Strengths-based approach

Designed as a ‘one stop shop’ for youth, the trust has a strengths-based approach and is free from alcohol, drugs, smoking, bullying, patches and gang colours. Every day they have hot kai the young people make.

Mondays to Fridays between 10 am and 2 pm, a youth worker is on duty for mentoring that covers life skills, goals, CV preparation, interviewing skills or driver licence preparation.

A drop-in centre operates from 3 pm till 6 pm .

Youth Space also has a full youth health service with a GP and nurses rostered on that offers a holistic approach with longer appointments than a usual medical practice. The health team walk alongside a young person for as long as it takes to help them.

Youth Space members having fun modelling new tee-shirts

Youth Space staff also work with local training and alternative education providers as a particular goal is helping young people have positive futures by helping them understand about training and work options.


Bernie says employment is a challenge for local youth. Some will leave the area to study or work and most will return once qualified.

For the youth who don’t leave, Bernie has found the secret of success is making sure they have really diverse skills to offer. Of particular importance is a full driver licence.

Northland offers great opportunities for the service industries, trades, hospitality and seasonal horticulture,” Bernie says.

It is also likely to have future forestry opportunities.

And the trust’s future goals?

Transport from outlying rural (and often remote) areas is a challenge. Ideally, the trust would like funding to buy two mini buses to bring youth to the centre or take the trust services to other facilities.

It also needs replacement funding as grants from cornerstone funders the Vodafone New Zealand Foundation and Foundation North are coming to an end.

Our dream is that all young people can thrive,” Bernie says.

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For more information:

Go to the Whangarei Youth Space website click here 


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