pahiaBy Denise Bijoux and Grant Harnish, Focus Pahia Co-founder 

Real change is going on in Paihia which is visible in the local landscape as well as in the accolades and awards they’re winning – including 2015 Community of the Year!

But visible change is not all.Local people and local systems are changing too.

Fundamental to this is the business approach Focus Paihia takes to the action-focused model developed and mandated by local people.

The visible change is perhaps most apparent on the waterfront, where once there were parked cars and now there is seating, a sculpture, a little library and games. It’s is also obvious at the Maiki Hill public toilets.


As Tania McInnes Focus Paihia Co-founder and now Far North District Council Deputy Mayor says,“simply put – Paihia stopped waiting for someone else to fix their problems.  It took responsibility and put words into action. It’s all about having a common goal, building community spirit and getting your hands dirty.”

In 2009, Focus Paihia worked with local people to develop a collective vision for Paihia village which led to a mandated masterplan within a year.

Placemaking provided a vehicle for making things happen, and while they are a community based trust, the funding side is run with a strong business ethos to ensure ongoing supply of funds.

Their first project involved renovating an unattractive public space next to the local i-Site.  It was transformed by more than 100 volunteers over one weekend using just $5,000 provided by the local community board.

Since then, many other projects have been completed, including the waterfront park where the $180,000 spend and 9,000 volunteer hours has created a space valued at $1.3 million.

Focus Paihia provided 90% of the funding for the park through their sustainable funding sources:

  • a committed pool of volunteers donating time and resources
  • volunteer-run Op Shop profit
  • contracts, including cleaning up after the Rena and cleaning and maintaining the village green
  • Grants from a targeted rate
Maiki Hill toilets.It’s hard to believe this is the same building!

Maiki Hill toilets.It’s hard to believe this is the same building!

Operating Focus Paihia like a business makes more sense, according to another co-founder, Grant Harnish. It means “that we are in charge of what we do. We can change things as we go, it’s more creative, fun and better use of our time.

“The answer lies in having a mandated masterplan and in local people actively carrying out the plan’s actions. If it is done with heart, it will be comfortable,the people involved will be proud and they get to know each other better.”

The Trust takes a no surprises approach and has developed a strong respected relationship with key agencies, including Far North District Council and New Zealand Transport Authority. It also helps that people involved remain open to change.

Focus Pahia has been so successful that they are developing a toolkit to share what has worked for them. The hope being that it will encourage more people to take responsibility and develop a bond and community spirit from the ground up and thus be in a much stronger, more resilient position to face whatever the future holds.

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