It’s little wonder that this small central North Island community has featured so positively in recent national media. With a population of around 1,000 spread across the rural area and in townships of Whakamaru and Mangakino, the people there are ‘going for it’ to build local community spirit, vibrancy and achievement.
Economic development is one thrust of their effort. Attracting more visitors, and creating more for them to do locally is a community focus. New highway and local signage now ensures road users know the townships are there, and the wealth of activities available. Cafes and eateries (one established by a local young woman only opened one year ago) are very busy and provide more work opportunities. They’ve also created their own Info Site – ‘that Dam Info Caravan’ which can be towed across the country promoting Mangakino and Whakamaru, and providing a base for locals at events.
There’s a growing focus on making sure local people know about what jobs are coming up, and aware of the skills and training they need. There are community systems in place to help locals, especially young people, get into training and complete relevant courses so their options for work grow, along with their confidence. Thirty people from the area received certificates at the recent Industry Training Organisation Awards Ceremony for 2015. And the community are supporting groups of people to travel to work out of town, an impossibility for individuals one by one.
This summer Mangakino and Whakamaru will launch the first boards of a new Heritage Trail celebrating local history, and providing both townfolk and visitors another activity to enjoy, perhaps in association with cycling or walking the Waikato River Trails which pass through the area. Local retail sales are up, the visitor spend is up, and Mangakino has enjoyed an increase of 35.4% in spending based on the same period last year – to the value $678,976.
Since establishment of the towns in the mid 1900s to build the hydro dams, they’ve been known as family friendly places. Both current residents and bach owners treasure that it feels safe to let tamariki and children walk to the shops or to the new skatepark that young people helped design and fundraise for. And there are a growing number of community-run events, and participation, including the annual raft race and Easter Sunday Services and picnics. This year float numbers in the annual Christmas Parade have trebled! There’s a Community Calendar, website and Facebook page to keep people connected, a local weekly news-sheet and regular emails to the non-resident ratepayer database to keep those with a stake in Mangakino informed and connected. The volunteer base is growing at a rate not known for years, especially for the essential local Fire and Ambulance services, but also for the senior citizen activities and local social and youth services.
So what’s the magic at work here? We think it’s about a community growing its own capability and confidence to work together more to achieve their own local visions. Progress has been enabled by the willingess of local employers and businesses, local health and social services, the marae, residents, the schools and whanau services, and the local Council to ‘take off their individual agency hats’ and find new ways to contribute their assets and strengths in the interests of transforming their community. A government agency has contributed some resourcing, and shown willingness to learn to work in new ways itself to help enable this change over a four year period.
The community has invested in some “glue” – co-ordination and brokering to help create some new systems that support sharing information and working together more. They have taken time to learn new ideas and skills. Their evaluation approach takes a focus on what’s precious and what’s changing among people and organisations, and whether they are ‘moving the dial’ on working together more. They realise that it’s not just the individual projects that matter, it’s the strength of ties locally, and the shared local vision, commitment and capacity to work together that will endure.
Inspiring Communities reflects that this is long-term work for a community. National and international evidence suggests it takes a decade for communities to embed new ways of working together. It spotlights the importance of integrated policies and funding flows, and a comprehensive and multi-year approach.
The Department of Internal Affairs has contributed some resourcing, and shown willingness to learn to work in new ways itself to help enable this change over a four year period.
For more information see www.mangakino.net.nz
 MarketView Quarterly Report to September 2015 for Taupō District Council