Bees, sunflowers and Great Start’s Bright Spot campaign

In Taita, children have been growing community along with sunflowers.
Having fun can be a great way of learning. Not only that but it can also be a really effective way to build connections to the environment and people around us. In Taita, children have been having fun planting sunflowers in less than beautiful spaces – on verges, along fences and in parks as well as back and front yards. Not surprisingly the sunflowers have been noticed by many people. So while the children have been learning a lot about how sunflowers grow, the importance of bees and what they can do to protect bee populations, they have also been learning how they can use sunflowers to help not only bees but also their community through ‘the Bright Spot’ campaign.

Read more; Bee’s, sunflowers and Great Start’s ‘Bright Spot’ campaign

Sharing the Love- Great Start’s project Sunshine

In 2010, Project Sunshine quickly found that growing sunflowers brought out the best in local people as much as it helped beautify parts of the community. Children became recognised as leaders and sunflowers became a catalyst for all sorts of things, including the development of a connection with a local beekeeper, Al Kilminster.
Al was keen to work with the Taita community in establishing a local beekeeping group. ProjectSunshine linked Al with the gardening club kids and soon the children were learning about the importance of bees, and their current plight. The children also realised that sunflower planting could help other children to make their communities beautiful too, while building connections between people and bees to help ensure the survival of the bee population. As a result, the BrightSpot campaign has turned into Project Sunshine and in 2011 it went national.

Read more: Great start project sunshine – Sharing the Love with NZ

Getting Started: Being of Service in Taita

Being of service in Taita

Providing services can be quite different to being ‘of’ service.

Great Start Taita has found that communities have a lot of skills as well as aspirations and needs. Often they want to put these skills to use with the organisations that work in their area rather than be clients of those organisations. This is the philosophy that underpins Great Start.

Read more: Getting Started – being of Service in Taita

An evolutionary approach – my story

In community-led development one thing leads to another and everything has a lifespan. Just because one thing finishes doesn’t mean its influences end.
Looking back is a great way to reveal these evolutions as Great Start Taita shows.

Read more; An evolutionary approach – My Story


The heart of the house is the kitchen

At the Taita Great Start House, home to the Early Years Service Hub, the boardroom table has been replaced with a kitchen table.  This is both a symbol of the way the house operates and of how the house has evolved as a center of community.
Great ideas and spontaneous collaborations can arise naturally when a group of people gather in an informal and relaxed setting, where the exchange of wisdom, ideas and dreams seems as natural as the sharing of food.  The kitchen table is a natural location for conversations, and plays host to many community consultations, initiated by different interest groups or organisations in the community.  “Working collaboratively is more than just a mind-set,” says Hub co-ordinator Karen Clifford.  “It requires a new set of skills.  If organisations and individuals are not confident with these skills, then the old way of working remains their comfort zone.”

The Taita Hub was set up five years ago and Karen says it was really about 18 months in before the barriers began to blur and the real collaboration started.  Just as the organisations now involved in the hub had their own ways of doing things, Karen says this was mirrored by different groups within the community which the house serves.

“Some groups just didn’t choose to come together initially.  We were dealing with cultural differences, generation gaps, perceptions and history.  For example one helper, confessed to me how anxious she had been about serving afternoon tea – had she cut the sandwiches the right way?  It might sound like a small thing but it really summed up the environment.”

To encourage collaboration, the Taita Hub set out to create a neutral, community-owned space, ‘lightly held’ by Barnardos.  This included explicitly recognising that young children (0-6) and their parents were part of a wider community and that services for them should be approached in a ‘whole community’ construct.

“We deliberately have no reception area,” Karen says. “When you come into the house you go straight into the kitchen.  You are more likely to be welcomed by a family than an agency.  And while you will probably be offered food, you may also find yourself with a job to do.  We don’t have clients here, we have helpers and co-creators – people who just want to get involved.  Sometimes it is as much about how you offer the service as the service itself.”

Recognising that crossing the Hub’s threshold can be a big step for families, the house has ‘soft doors’ like a toy library and play sessions that draw people in and start to build that feeling of belonging.

“The kaupapa of the house is an evolutionary thing.  We can’t always predict where an idea will take us, but it’s all about helping locally driven initiatives to flourish.”

One example, Karen says, is the way the community garden has grown.  “What started with ‘adopt a plot’ now includes a large kitchen garden that provides food for the house.  Now we’re looking at upgrading the kitchen to commercial standards and running a catering business from the house. It would use the produce from the garden, and draw on the skills developed in the kitchen.  The revenue from this would then flow back into the house.  This is an exciting possibility which will evolve in its own way if the time is right.”

The hub reaches out to all new mothers through its Little Star’s Baby Packs for every new-born.  The baby packs are often presented via a neighbour or neighbours.  “That way, neighbours know there’s a new baby in their street,” Karen says.  “Involving your neighbours in your life can be a great source of support.”

Such outreach activities are designed to help people feel part of the community, Karen says. “It’s about growing a caring, connected community.” And sharing that caring around the kitchen table. As Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers say: It is a simpler way.



To grow everyday places of community coming together – growing leadership, moving beyond a service delivery model and making it easy for families to engage with Great Start and one another.


Key Learnings:

  • Taking a lead can be about changing an environment and allowing others to lead from a different space.  Offering a kitchen table instead of a boardroom table makes a lot of sense in a family centred Hub where it has enabled much sharing of information and skill as people genuinely work together to make the things they want happen.
  • Good things take time, and strategy.  Working together has its own culture in every place and this takes time to develop.  Even getting people together can take time, and it needs some careful enabling, such as having a variety of ways people can become involved. Ensuring there are some ‘soft doorways in’ is critical to the evolutionary process of working together.
  • There are no recipes for working together because the ingredients are different in different places and at different times.  Not everything will work out as planned, or in the timeframe hoped for but each time this happens, understandings about what does work in this place and at this time grow deeper.


Key Outcomes: 

  • People from different backgrounds now working together – creating different places to connect – the kitchen table approach is simple and is growing in different communities across Aotearoa New Zealand.


Key Contact: 

Jeanette Higham:



Wheatley, M. J and Kellner-Rogers, M. (1996). A Simpler Way. Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc, San Francisco.

Story by Karen Clifford and Susan Warwood.

February 2012

Footnote or PS to this story:

Since this was written there have been considerable changes in staff at Great Start and as a consequence some initiatives have had to go ‘on hold’ or to be ‘let go’ of.  The dream of having a catering business operating from the house is one the initiatives that has been let go of for now.  It is still there as a future possibility.  This is not necessarily a negative issue as letting go of this and several other initiatives has opened up spaces and possibilities for other groups and individuals.  An example of this is the way in which the Periodic Detention workers have engaged with Great Start this year.

This links to the ecocycle theories around letting go and new cycles beginning.

Karen Clifford


May 2012

Partnering with Children – My Story

Kids say the darnedest things and are often disarmingly frank.

Great Start Taita found that the ‘mouths of babes’ can lead to local improvements that are relevant and effective.

Not only that,having children involved throughout the project’s life teaches both them and the adults involved a thing or two about what it is to lead.

Partnering with Children -‘ My story’

A Community wins with Periodic Detention

Periodic Detention (PD) workers are out in many communities every Saturday working as directed by our Justice system.    At Great Start Taita, a decent dollop of respect and plenty of humour meant that a garden was rescued from the brink of going wild,  PD workers started going the extra mile and community connections were nurtured.
It started with a new PD supervisor who ‘gets what Great Start is about’ and a handful of PD workers who were receptive to some warmth and the opportunity of a second chance, blend in some giving and receiving and ladle on lashings of encouragement, appreciation and opportunities for creativity.  Mix well and bake in a warm oven for a few hours on a Saturday and you have the makings of a very special dish it seems.

“I don’t know what it is about this place, but there’s something here that makes them (the men and women doing community service hours) want to get stuck in….” has been a comment made by our regular Community Probation Supervisor at The Great Start House on Saturdays.

We started small by writing a letter about the list of jobs I made for the team each weekend. I kept it really chatty and not too formal, with a bit of humour.  I soon found out that the most important thing though was noticing and acknowledging all their efforts from the last weekend and giving feedback – the more I did of this, the more work they did and their own initiative and creativity emerged – a win win situation!

Another secret ingredient has been food.   Giving PD workers food!  One week when I baked a chocolate cake, the next week one of the guys brought in some hinges and bolts from his own house to fix a gate he knew needed fixing – and I hadn’t even got around to putting the broken gate on the list yet.  They raved and raved so much about the moistness of the cake that I ran off some copies of the recipe for them the following week and they snapped them up.  One guy asked if he could take some of the artichokes home, as no one seemed to be using them, he told us how to cook them too.  “Sure!” we said.

Variety and encouragement seem to motivate this team, they work hard but we don’t make it about breaking rocks in the hot sun.  So far they have been involved in making one piece of art and I plan to give them another project to do entirely on their own.  Their supervisor can’t believe how much they achieve in 3 hours at Great Start, compared to what would normally be 6 hours of work elsewhere.

A member of the PD team once commented to one of our team, “It’s for a good cause; we can see things progressing – it’s more worthwhile than clearing blackberry bushes”.

It’s amazing what good things can come out of building trusting relationships – one young guy shared that he and his partner were expecting their first baby very soon, but had concerns because they were having trouble finding a midwife (this is common in our area and many other areas).  They lived in our neighbouring community of Naenae so we encouraged him to get his partner to come in the following week so that we could hook her up with our DHB midwife.  She has now been seen by the midwife and all is going well!


Connecting with some of our ‘harder to reach’ families, developing a sense of reciprocity and increasing a sense of wellbeing and belonging in your community.
Key Learnings:

  • Treating people with respect and offering a positive work environment generates more good will and trust by creates a spiral of positives, transforming participation.
  • Going that extra step is important as the results can be life changing for our families.
    Key Outcomes:
  • Connecting in different ways with our community helps to ensure that as many people as possible have opportunities to find the support they need, for example a midwife.
    Key Contact:

Kirsten Grenfell

Story by Kirsten Grenfell and Denise Bijoux.
June 2012

Read more; Community Probation wins in Taita