Big budget to lift up community
Renee Kennedy knows about poverty – the 33-year-old solo mum has five children and sometimes struggles to put food on the table.
But with the help of a pioneering Hutt City Council project, Empowering Tamariki, she is turning her life around.
The council has spent tens of millions of dollars on a range of projects to lift its poorest citizens out of poverty.
Kennedy said living on a benefit was not easy, ‘‘especially when kids need money for school trips or camps’’. That is where council initiatives have helped.
Kennedy lives near the renovated Walter Nash Centre which has become the hub of the Taita/Pomare community.
The council has funded the Vision Active programme at the centre which provides sport for youngsters and gives them something to eat afterwards.
Kennedy began volunteering with Vision Active and is now employed as the team leader. Her eldest daughter, 16-year-old Haylee, works as a youth leader and son Marshall, 15, volunteers.
The whole family is involved in Twilight Basketball at the Walter Nash Centre on Friday nights.
Marshall, who is into science and technology, is a regular at the Taita Computer Clubhouse, established by the council.
Thirteen members of Kennedy’s extended whanau enjoy free guitar lessons at the new $5 million Koraunui Stokes Valley Hub.
Empowering Tamariki was launched in 2013 and aims to improve the lives of young people in Naenae, Taita, Stokes Valley and Pomare.
Since 2013, $53m has been invested in rejuvenating the city’s most deprived communities including $39m being spent on new community facilities and $10m for council services such as libraries, recreation and education programmes. It is also spending $5m on projects targeting everything from helping school leavers find work to making sure children do not go to school hungry.
Empowering Tamariki’s driving force is general manager Matt Reid.
A question he regularly faces is ‘‘what the heck has all this got to do with the city council?’’
‘‘I do not mind saying I live in paradise but I am sad to say, as a New Zealander, it’s not a paradise for everyone and the council is doing something about it.’’
If we all wanted to live in a safe community where everyone could participate, the council had no choice but to give those at the bottom a hand up, he said.
As to that tricky issue ‘‘what does all this have to with council?’’ Reid pointed out the new Government was looking at changing the Local Government Act to include a ‘‘wellbeing’’ clause.
He believed Hutt City would be seen as a pioneer.
Deprivation studies measuring unemployment, house and car ownership, and educational qualifications showed Pomare and Taita had some of New Zealand’s poorest citizens.
What the council had done, he said, was take a co-ordinated approach to reducing poverty and actively look for ways to build a stronger community.
‘‘What really moves me is that we can see children’s engagement and ambitions on the rise.
‘‘When these kids go on to further education, or training or employment, families benefit, their communities benefit and the city benefits. This is why council is involved in these projects.’’
Renee Kennedy and her children, from left, Braxton, 4, Matese, 9, Alize-Skye, 9, Marshall,15 and, Haylee,16.