The Nelson Whakatū community is no stranger to a Civil Defence Emergency.  

Hit by severe weather and floods in 2018, devastating bushfires in 2019, and now, Covid-19.   

Within days, a new collaboration between community-led initiatives and organisations dedicated to helping the most vulnerable was formed. Project C-19 is a collaboration between Volunteer Nelson and Neighbourhood Support Nelson, both very active and visible community organisations in the region and funded by Nelson City Council .   

Grow from shared local visions 

The goal was clear; to support the organisations working with the most vulnerable in the community. To predict which needs might arise and be most crucial, the Project C-19 team developed a work exchange survey to help identify those gaps and needs, as well as to share their strengths, resources, and capacities. This evidence saw the organisations quickly self-organise and reassign their shared capability to respond directly to what they had identified: an increased need for food and housing support, as well as for strong and direct communication – not only between the organisations themselves, but also to the community so that the right source of support can be found for everyone’s individual needs and questions.  

C-19 Project Manager Dawn Gauthier says she was amazed how immediately Nelson’s active support networks kicked into action:  

“The organisations were so well equipped that within days, helping hands were reaching out to those who were stretched. The proactive and empathic approach of community organisations like Age Concern  was impressive.”  


Rather than waiting for people to reach out themselves, volunteers and staff at Age Concern Nelson picked up the phone to personally check in on older people in their network. However, what quickly became evident was that a stronger communication link was needed between those working ‘on the ground’ and those facilitating the government’s support measurements during the pandemic.

Project C-19 Communication channels.

Work with diverse people and sectors  

To get a clearer picture of what decisions were being made, while providing a link back into this community’s needs and capacities, Project C-19 established a strong link directly into the Civil Defence Emergency Management team

By participating directly in the daily CDEM Welfare team meetings, Dawn has been able to gather the necessary information first-hand and moreover provide insights into the day-to-day challenges local social service organisations were facing. It also enabled quick, accurate updates back into the community. The result being locally led responsive change across their organisations closing in on those gaps. 

Learn by doing  

The information is moreover proactively shared in Project C-19’s weekly newsletters, offering a valuable resource to the community and making CDEM’s mahi more visible and accessible.   

In addition, Dawn and her team have organised a weekly, “short and sharp” Zoom-meeting with representatives of the CDEM team and Nelson’s community organisations, where questions and updates can be shared directly. Part of these weekly forums is a brief survey checking in on how everyone is feeling about their organisation’s workload, about what has been going well, and where people have noticed gaps.  

Build from Strengths  

Housing and food supply proved to be one of the biggest challenges during the Lockdown period. The amount of food vouchers distributed by the Nelson Tasman Pasifika Community Trust in the first few weeks alone was “massive”, says Dawn. With the economic impacts of Covid-19 expected to more fully hit our communities over the next few months, Dawn expects this trend to continue. 

“Many people may have difficulty understanding that they need help. Some may need help for the first time, having never considered accessing a food bank or social services like mental health support until now.”  

Dawn stresses that it is crucial to remove the stigma around topics such as unemployment, homelessness, and mental health problems, and to make access to help and resources as easy as possible. 

A focus on positivity and hope paired with strong community networks and a whole lot of appreciation are just some of the strengths and driving force behind this initiative. The collective community responses like Project C-19 are spearheading stronger links between governing bodies, social services, community initiatives, and iwi-led responses such as Manaaki Twenty who are also working closely with the CDEM team, and the people in the community who need support. Dawn says there is hope and determination that these new ways of working will take a lasting hold.  

“There is definitely a desire to not just go back to the way things were before, but to try and make things work better for a lot more people as we move forward.”  

You can find out more about Project C-19 here, read their weekly newsletter here, and sign up to these updates here.  

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