Who would have thought that a parade of classic American cars could kick-start community development?
Coordinating The AmeriCARna festival is not the typical work of a Community Development Advisor. AmeriCARna is, after all, a touring classic car show.  However, hosting AmeriCARna in Waitara is a great example of how community development gathers momentum when there is an event to focus on, especially one where international coverage is guaranteed!

In Waitara’s case there was the added pressure of the community development advisor being very new to the role, only seven months into the job.  As well, lead-in time was exceptionally short – it was only four weeks out from the event when the Waitara CBD, rather than the beach, was confirmed as the event focus.  The focus on the CBD was proposed to the promoters because it would encourage trade as well as the participation of locals.

On the day, 400 classic American cars cruised the main street as bands played, Miss Taranaki gave out $500 worth of spot prizes and a local MC roused the crowds.  The street was lined with entertainers including an American themed clown on stilts, American themed belly dancers, face painters, food stalls (including hangi), over 30 market stalls and performances from local children.

As many of those working in community led development know, tight timeframes can be a blessing in disguise – when we are short of a key element we are forced to lean on others, to trust, to build on local assets and to build relationships.  This is exactly what proponents of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) advocate: local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community development.  Building on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions, asset-based community development draws upon existing community strengths to build stronger, more sustainable communities for the future.

In Waitara that meant collaboration, and coordination.  It meant using the main street and its retailers instead of the beach so to start things off, the community development advisor, Melissa Willis, called a town meeting to see what retailers and business people wanted to do for the AmeriCARna show holders.  From this meeting, a Business and Promotions Association was born to organise the event.

With AmeriCARna as the catalyst, for the first time all the Waitara retailers came together to close the main street, set up market stalls and celebrate.  Schools also came together with local businesses to fundraise as well as providing kapa haka groups who performed powhiri and poroporoake for the guests.  Local businesses donated sound systems and trucks for stages, while local service clubs provided entertainment, marshalling, food and clean up crews afterwards and local bands had the chance to showcase their talent for US television.

The Community Development Advisor took on the role of key contact person.  Under such time pressure and with all sort of people organising their part there absolutely had to be one point of contact.  Melissa helped to link those who wanted to contribute and to hold the various groups and activities together as a cohesive whole.

And what a success!  Waitara retailers had their biggest trading day on record and positive media coverage of a formerly down-on-its-luck town reached across Taranaki, Aotearoa New Zealand and the USA.  Hundreds of Waitara residents came out, proud of their town, to celebrate together.

In 2012 AmeriCARna is coming back to Waitara, and this time Waitara has had the luxury of time as well as well-established relationships to build on their 2010 experience.  As the AmeriCARna website says:

“Look out Waitara here we come.  In 2010 Waitara put on a fantastic party and we can’t wait to get back and soak up the hospitality!”

Waitara says: “Bring it on!”

Key Learnings:

  • Events can provide a catalytic focus for community led development.  They draw individuals together to work towards a collective good that is tangible and bounded.
  • Tight time pressures can mean that people are forced to actively seek collaboration to help achieve the goal.  This can bring partnerships together that may not be created under less pressured circumstances, which also means that the various strengths of the partners are demonstrated to people who may not normally work together.
  • Think out of the box: there are many ways to work together in place and build community and the tried and true are not always the most effective.  Take a chance and be creative because at worst you will come out with some key learnings for next time and at best, well, anything is possible!
  • Everything is developmental, get a recipe for success and keep building it, use your local resources – it encourages passion from your locals and shows the true colours of your town truly giving visitors a unique experience; encourage children to participate – they’ll bring their families which aids community building, provide opportunities for retailer to participate – by donating prizes and dressing their windows it reminds them they are part of a wider community too.

Key Outcomes:

  • The Waitara Community Development Project received great exposure from coordinating this event.  It ensured that right from the start, the Community Development Advisor’s name was known to all the retailers in the CBD and many schools, businesses, service clubs, families and event holders.
  • The Business and Promotions Association proved itself as a functioning committee able to organise retailers, schools, services clubs, hobby groups and businesses to work together for the first time in a long time to create a hugely successful day.
  • After years of less than flattering publicity and statistics, local people felt proud of their efforts and of their town. This helped to pave the way for stronger local voices and further efforts of community development that are increasingly led by local communities.


Melissa Willis

Community Development Advisor

Waitara Community Development Project

Email:  Melissa.Willis@tuiora.co.nz

Phone: 027 486 5134 or 067597726



See http://www.abcdinstitute.org/

Story by Melissa Willis and Denise Bijoux

May 2012

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