For all the right reasons, New Zealand is starting to take notice of a small community in the Far North. In a district often associated with negative statistics and on the back of a bi-election wrought with what’s not working in Northland, Paihia is leading the charge and bucking trends.
It is demonstrating what can be achieved when a bunch of passionate, creative and inspired people take charge of their destiny. And it’s hoping to inspire other communities to give it a go.
Paihia, with a resident population of around 1,700 has, for the second time within a month, received significant national recognition. In February it was named the 2015 Mitre 10 Community of the Year (part of the New Zealander of the Year Awards) and just last weekend, it was named Trustpower’s 2014 Community Awards Supreme winner. A huge achievement.
So, what has made this community stand out? And why is this important for other New Zealand communities?
Simply put – Paihia stopped waiting for someone else to fix their problems. It took responsibility and put words into action.
Talking with Trustees of Focus Paihia Community Charitable Trust (FPCCT) they will tell you it’s all about having a common goal, building community spirit and getting your hands dirty.
FPCCT got underway in 2009, when a couple of people decided it was time to stop moaning about the state of the town and do something about it. The concept quickly gained local support and Focus Paihia was born. The community developed their own vision of where they wanted to be within the first five months. About a year later they launched the Paihia Masterplan, an aspirational future concept design for the village.
Not long after this, FPCCT was introduced to the concept of ‘placemaking’. Project for Public Spaces describes this as a ‘quiet movement that reimagines public spaces as the heart of every community. A transformative approach that inspires people to create and improve their public places’.
The Trust now had a vehicle for making things happen. And things did happen, with great gusto and impressive outcomes. The first project was the renovation over one weekend of an underused and unattractive public space next to the local i-Site. With just $5k, provided by the local community board, the area was transformed by over 100 volunteers.
This first project provided impetus to move onto the next. Within the last three years the ‘ugliest toilet in NZ’ has been renovated into a well photographed public commodity (for just $13.5k), a swimming pontoon has been launched, a mural painted, a village green over-hauled, public seating added, an Op Shop opened and the list goes on. All achieved by volunteers, who were feed and watered by more volunteers – sometimes for months on end.
The biggest and most controversial project to date has been the removal of a well used public carpark. From the word go, the community had clearly indicated that they wanted a people friendly waterfront.
With very limited public space in the CBD, it was decided that the waterfront carpark had to go. Not everyone was happy about it and the Trust ended up in Council fighting for the right to remove it.
The Trust had recognised that for things to really change within the village – both physically and in perception, something substantial had to happen. If the community could pull it off, the transformation would showcase what can be achieved and encourage future proactive development.
Over 250 volunteers spent over 9,000 hours transforming this space. Estimated to be worth around $1.3m commercially, the park was built for $180k. With around 90% of the funding being provided by FPCCT, through their sustainable funding sources.
The outcome is more than anyone had hoped. And many of those opposed have been won over by the success of the space and have got involved with other projects.
It was the creation the park that saw the Trust win the Trustpower Supreme Community Award. And it has forever changed the way this community looks and feels. Once a departure point, Paihia now has a heart and is a destination in its own right. The park, on the waters edge, now provides a place for people to meet, mix, mingle, sit back and relax.
The common theme however, is that the villages transformation is a by-product of what happens when a community unites and works together for the greater good. It is fair to say that for many years Paihia was seen as disconnected, with polar opinions and no clarity about who it was. Once described as a good example of a town with no planning, it was a mixed jigsaw, with a tired look and feel.
Today there is a buzz in the air. A feeling of hope and optimism. The creation of the projects has created a strong sense of community pride and comradery. Lasting friendships have been formed, alliances achieved and credibility built.
What is also impressive and somewhat unusual is the Trust is becoming self sustaining and isn’t having to rely on outside funders to get a lot of things done. Smart business decisions and good management has seen the Trust in a strong financial position to move forward.
It has been a win-win relationship for the Far North District Council. In a time when unitary authorities are being discussed and many councils across New Zealand are struggling to meet basic demands, let alone develop the nice to have projects, it is refreshing to see a community stand up and take the lead. And FNDC has been behind them all the way.
With Local Government in the business of serving its communities, it is recognised that it is much easier to work with and support groups that have a cohesive approach and are clear about who they are and where they want to go.
This Council is incredibly proud of what Paihia has achieved, believing that the town is showcasing how fantastic the Far North is, and the people within it. It believes that Paihia is in the process of reinventing itself, achieving amazing results on a shoe string budget. It is a template and inspiration for other communities.
And on this note, FPCCT are now looking to develop a toolkit to share and encourage other communities to take charge. It believes that if more people take responsibility and develop a bond and community spirit from the ground up, New Zealand will be in a much stronger, more resilient position to face whatever the future holds.
In a time when many people feel disconnected from their community – Paihia is developing a roadmap that combines community aspiration with community spirit – something that we could probably all do with a little more of.
On the project front, there is plenty more yet to come. The Trust recognises that there is still a way to go and is looking at a review of their strategic direction – all with community input of course. Along the way, a world class mountain bike park is to be built and with a community workshop on the horizon who knows what might pop up over the winter – anyone want to build a taniwha?
Following is my speech celebrating International Women's Day.
"When we unleash the power of women, we can secure the future for all," says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for International Women’s Day 2015.
This year, International Women’s Day, which is celebrated globally will highlight the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic roadmap signed by 189 governments in 1995 - 20 years ago - that sets the agenda for realising women’s rights.
This is the time to uphold women’s achievements, recognize challenges, and focus greater attention on women’s rights and gender equality to mobilize all people to do their part. The Beijing Platform envisions a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination. (taken from the UN Women website)
So, I want start by saying how blessed I feel to have been born and raised in Aotearoa. Although we as a country do have many challenges on a number of levels, I am eternally grateful that I have not bore the hardship of being female in a country where women as a whole can be treated with such disrespect and at times abhorrently...it is often beyond belief but sadly very real
Today, the title of my speech is 'equality for women is progress for all.'
Although in full agreement, I must say that I struggled somewhat with my preparation as I had being unsure how to address such a topic without being disrespectful to men in general, who I very much value.
I do however recognise that for this world to be truly prosperous and healthy we must find balance – which is currently lacking.
And not just between the sexes. For our mother earth to flourish and as an off shoot - continue to sustain us - we, as human beings, must urgently look to return balance to our planet. A topic for another day :)
So, finding balance between the sexes...this to me means recognising and respecting what the opposites bring to make the whole. Whether it be masculine and feminine, night and day, hot and cold – the strength in these is that one can not be without the other – I mean how would we appreciate a hot shower if we had never had a cold one?
We would all cook...quite quickly...should the sun never set
And as women I know we all recognise the importance of the moon, her changing face and the impacts this brings upon our systems – both naturally and manufactured.
I think the sooner this is more widely acknowledged the better.
It is quite clearly recognised that in business women and men bring quite different approaches to the table – and that this can produce some very well balanced and effective decision making. I certainly see that around the council table.
Having or gaining more power is generally not a key motivator for women. We tend to be more inspired by the feeling of achievement, making a difference and being valued or adding valve.
As many of us can appreciate, if women were tasked with the decision of going to war – there would be a lot less of them – as it is not within our natural framework to put our children in danger.
And I know there are always exceptions to the rule....
Which brings me to the point, that we need to start challenging the western approach that for women to be successful in business, we don't need to act (or dress) like a man to be taken seriously.
We need to celebrate this diversity between the sexes rather than trying to control and manipulate it to ones own end.
As a people this is where our strength will come from. Our unity and our healing.
And we do live in a time where we need to heal. Individually and collectively. We need to learn to forgive and make peace. We must be brave and expect better, want for more, fly the flag for freedom, respect, grace and prosperity. And it all starts with us – you and me...
Women, I believe, play a significant role in bringing about this change. Although often the physically weaker sex – we are strong of heart, carry great wisdom (I believe) and can endure and grow from many trials and tribulations. We are renown for balancing hectic lifestyles and having exceptional organisational skills ;)
And, I believe, we inherently know what is right – we just don't always have the self belief that can be required to make the change.
So this is what I would now like to focus on – encouraging us, as women, to believe that we can be all that we want to be and often a lot more – I do find that humans in general underestimate just what we are capable of.
And I am a very good example. I'm not going into my journey to date today...but lets just say that being in local politics, let alone the deputy mayor was not on my 'will achieve' list and yet here I am.
I am learning to never say never.
I am also a firm believer that we all have a very special purpose and that is to be the best that we can be and thus we must push ourselves onwards and upwards.
Which is often much easier said than done.
Why? I think I will call it conditioning – society norms or the beliefs that we learn as children which we can carry with us for a life time - if we are not brave enough to challenge them and then make the change.
Now – some of these beliefs are good...very good, some are unhelpful and others can be down right destructive. I just want to note, that society beliefs are different all over the place, rural...urban, one culture...another culture, etc
So, let's briefly have a look at maybe an outdated belief – one that I have personal experience in and its a bit of a tough one.
Growing up to believe that having children comes naturally and that all women should be mothers. Well, actually that's two but closely tied – because if you can't achieve the first then you may not achieve the second.
So growing up with this belief – which you don't even realise is a belief - it just is...it's comes as a bit of a shock (to say the least) that this is not actually the case...
So, one goes through a bit of a rocky journey – because having something that is so ingrained in you, so part of you, so desired by you - having that taken away from you – can 'feel' a bit soul destroying.
Turns out, well for me, its not – soul destroying that is. In fact, I found my inner strength (which was always there) and I became much wiser and less judgemental because of this part of my journey.
Once again not going into detail today, after my last round of IVF I spend two years healing and growing to very much enjoy my freedom and the opportunities it brought. To understand that life can be very rewarding and that its quite alright not to have children – in fact it gives you a great appreciation as to why some women choose not to.
However, in my case life had another big surprise... in its very magical way … and I was gifted with a daughter, who I am eternally grateful for and teaches me every day.
So, when we as women look for equality, which we most certainly deserve and should have – as its quite natural and normal, we have to believe...deep down... that we are actually entitled to it – and that this can go against some well ingrained belief systems – whether we realise it or not (and this goes for men as well).
I believe and have experienced that often what we are taught and what actually ‘is’ vary greatly. One can be set in fear (not always intentionally) teaching people to behave in a certain way – a form of control. The other is set in self acceptance and trusting in what’s right for one’s own journey. That’s right, one’s own journey.
It’s not about the masses or about what someone else thinks. It’s about learning to recognise and trust in one’s own intuition, ones own journey. It's about finding that quiet place inside – where peace remains supreme. I have found that making decisions from this place has never put me wrong...I will note that it can often be quite hard to find this space sometimes with all the hub bub that goes on in my head and around me...
Yes our journeys inter-weave with each other – all the time, but your journey and my journey are not the same and should not be compared.
This is certainly not suggesting that I should get own with my own life – damn the rest of you :) Quite the opposite...
For me to be truly authentic, to be all that I can be – should bring me to a place of compassion and empathy. Recognition that although I am an individual I am part of the whole. For me to truly succeed, I need to be in a space of success, which means my wider community, district, etc is also succeeding or prosperous.
And not many things give me more joy than seeing people I work or interact with grow and overcome obstacles, finding moments of happiness on the way, as they journey along their path to be all that they can be...and should be.
To inspire, encourage and or uplift another individual is quite something. And it's not because you actually did anything other than believe in them. Its because they did it for themselves – they found a happy place - and they in turn carry on to inspire others – its has a wonderful ripple effect.
Just a wee note here that we have to be very careful not to underestimate our influence (both good and bad). You don't have to be famous or rich to inspire others – simple acts....doing the right thing by you, being brave, over coming challenges, living a full life, whatever it may look like can be quite inspiring for those that have not yet found their place.
I would now like to briefly touch on two things.
One: the need to support our young women and help instil in them the right belief systems so that they are encouraged to make vibrant decisions that will help them truly prosper. That they don't need to be a size eight, have long flowing hair and a buff boyfriend to have a wonderful life. That they are all specifically and specially created perfect as we are. That they are valued and have something very important to do with our lives – and that is to be the amazing person that they are – right now (you may also want to point out that life gets very boring when everything is the same...)
The second point... as women we need to start being a bit nicer to each other. Just like we need to inspire our young women we need to inspire each other.
Women (generalising here) are quite renown for being catty and nasty...something I personally experienced at high school and one of the reasons I probably tend to hang out more with men now...
This behaviour comes from a place of low self esteem. If we want equality, then we need to stand together united and encourage each other – not compare or pull down. We need to stand by each other, compliment, uplift. Just saying hello to a stranger can make someone's day.
And I don't think a little bit of envy does any harm as desire is often a great motivator (just don't let it turn to jealousy – very destructive)...
For many of us, challenging our belief systems will take courage... it will require us to step outside of our comfort zone...(I encourage it – its quite liberating)
I recently read a quote on Facebook saying “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”
Courage is a fine line between hope, knowing and respect for one’s self. It’s going to take courage and hope and faith to be all you can be. Life does offer great abundance. And love will provide the strength to show you the way. Having this hope will help you confidently take the next step and in achieving that step you will want to take another...and another...
A wee poem...
Life is a lesson in self
It is an opportunity to seek and learn
To live and grow
It is your life, no others
So do not burden yourself with the cares and worries of others
Live your life in integrity, faith and knowing
Stand tall and be counted in your own right
No blame, no wrong
Love your life.
So, I firmly believe in the power of unleashing women's potential – that will scare a few men lol.
I firmly believe that we have some way to go to achieve balance and that it will take a change of mindset by both men and women.
I firmly believe that we need to do this - our world depends on it.
Equality or balance is the right thing – the only thing that will bring true prosperity to human kind.