Thriving in the unlikeliest of locations: Waimamaku’s Story
In a remote Northland community, an hour’s drive west of Kaikohe, the Waimamaku Resource Centre thrives in the unlikeliest of locations. An old cheese fridge, part of a cheese factory that used to employ a large portion of the community, is now the central hub where a small group of committed members deliver a range of services for the wider community.
When the factory shut down in the 70’s, hundreds of locals lost their jobs. With no other major employment opportunities, the town experienced a steep financial decline. Although over 40 years ago, the closing of the factory highlighted just how tenuous the employment situation in remote rural towns can be and how vital local support is when it comes to revitalising a community.
Waimamaku is home to all of 500 odd residents, and within the walls of the old cheese fridge, they are able to find a source of social cohesion. A place where locals can meet, get to know one another, discuss what they feel their community needs, and learn new skills.
From the most humble of places, locals receive computer-related assistance, get help with funding and admin issues, enrol in workshops, and share skills that have been identified as important to the community. Educational opportunities are always present, along with after school activities and resource centre volunteers who take people to town to run errands once a month.
“We provide workshops to enhance skills so that people here are given a pathway to employment. For example, we have workshops such as ‘Potions and Lotions’ for locals who are interested in getting into cottage industries. They can make their own soaps and then sell them at the monthly market alongside other local products and produce.” COURTNEY, PROJECT COORDINATOR, WEKAWEKA VALLEY COMMUNITY TRUST.
“We had a number of community meetings where we used paper and pens and mapped out our collective vision for Waimamaku.”
Grow from shared local visions
The Waimamaku community are working toward a strong collective vision for their home. The community got together to decide what they felt Waimamaku needed. Collectively, they mapped out their vision and made an application to the Department of Internal Affairs’ Community-led Development Programme. A partnership with the DIA has brought funding to focus on the needs and aspirations of the community, as well as the supporting the operating costs of the resource centre.
Build from strengths
Due to its distance from other main centres in Aotearoa, their place continues to face limited job opportunities, a lack of options to train and upskill, and a shortage in public transport services. But locals feel many of these issues can be addressed through connection and collaboration. Meetings, dinners and get-togethers are set up to help locals share their own aspirations for their community. The community understands that if they are all on the same page, they are able to harness this power as a collective group to make change for the better.
Without the shared skills of the Waimamaku community, the centre may not have had such a strong revival. The centre draws on these strengths, fostering environments in which people can learn from their neighbours. A recent example is when a community member came to the centre to discuss the expenses of installing a new septic tank. This led to the centre engaging with a local who agreed to run a workshop, teaching people how to build their own composting toilet.
“In Waimamaku there are many different individuals with amazing skills and knowledge. Here at the Resource Centre, we can be the connector for these individuals.”
Work with diverse people and sectors
The Wekaweka Valley Community Trust also supports a number of other unincorporated groups in the valley by assisting them and holding their funds. For example, the community garden group can apply for funding under the trust as well as a social sports club and a health initiative. All ideas and groups are welcome with locals recently setting up a soft plastics recycling, a pataka kai food pantry and a seed swap.
Learn by doing
When it comes to community-led development, you can try to plan ahead as much as you like, but there is no blueprint for things like this. Each community is different with varying needs.
“There is a bit of a strategic plan within the centre but a lot of the mahi is done by people getting together and simply just doing it. There doesn’t have to be too much overthinking. All you need is a few passionate people who come up with an idea, draw the community around them, and get things happening organically.”
Looking ahead, there will be more educational opportunities within the centre on the horizon. At the moment they are working with NorthTec, a tertiary provider in northern Aotearoa, to bring computer classes to the community. And as invaluable as their humble meeting place has been, they would love a new, larger facility for their growing needs. Something that the centre and their community are working towards, together.
The floors may be a little uneven, the walls lacking windows and there are a few leaks here and there but it is the community-led mahi that happens within the old cheese fridge that matters, proving that it’s not the place but the people around you that give the community heart.