Rise issue 19

Another chance at life

From a distance, it looks as if a circus has pitched tent alongside the Porirua landfill.

But in fact the three gleaming white tops come from a dismantled Challenge service station in Rotorua. Beneath their shelter, a not-for-profit organisation called Mana Recovery has set up shop.

Mana Recovery recycles everything from trash to treasure. Its shop – Trash Palace – sells everything from 1950s wireless radios to kids’ bikes and fine china teapots. Out the back, men in a workshop are dismantling old televisions, computers and whiteware. The usable parts will be sold to suppliers and repairers. The rest is sorted for recycling. There’s also a gardening business, an arts centre and a nursery.

Robert, one of the men in the workshop, explains the 12 different types of recyclable metal and plastic that he can now easily identify.

He’s an employee at Mana Recovery – and that’s the organisation’s true mission. It offers a social service, training and work opportunities for people with mental health needs.

In one way or another, everything here is getting another chance at life.

Mana Recovery

Mana Recovery formed in 1996 to support psychiatric patients after Porirua Psychiatric Hospital closed its long-stay wards. Originally known as Mana Community Enterprises, it offered work-focused rehab programmes but found trainees struggled to move beyond the programmes into paid work.

So it set up several small businesses based around recycling and sustainability in partnership with the Porirua City Council and other local businesses.

Mana Recovery now employs 52 people, more than half with mental health needs. Each day a further 100 people take part in hands-on work experience and the Riverstones programme, which helps with life skills, social skills and confidence to be part of the community.

Good business

For general manager Elizabeth Coluzzi, running Mana Recovery is a long way from her high-flying days as national operations manager at health care provider McKesson Asia-Pacific.

Yet she could not be happier. Seeing people’s lives change and gain purpose while turning waste into treasure gives total satisfaction.

“We need to be a well-run business to continue to achieve this for them. Everything here is about sustainability – reusing, repairing and recycling – and our business model aims to become self-sustaining.”

In fact, Elizabeth believes that all NGOs need to run like businesses.

“Too many put their hand out to continue operating. Money needs to be used wisely and always with a return that we can measure.

“When I came to Mana Recovery nearly two years ago, we were in financial strife – more than $112,000 in deficit.

“I canned expenditure, put in a good budget, looked at ways of reducing overheads – like rationalising the properties we were operating from and where we could get savings.”

A one-off grant from the Ministry of Social Development’s Community Response Fund covered the back rent and kept the organisation going while Elizabeth re-engineered the business. It took a year to come right and Mana Recovery is now in much better shape.

“This is too important an initiative to fail.”

Stories of change

Joe is 54 and works in Mana Recovery’s metal dismantling unit, recovering precious metals from TVs, microwaves and computers.

It is the first job he has had in his life.

Joe arrived at Mana Recovery’s trainee unit in 2008, where people with mental health disabilities undertake rehabilitation and vocational training.

A year later he applied for a job at Trash Palace, where he has been for three years.*

“We have seen him change from being unable to talk to us to someone who comes to work each day, proud of what he does and very much part of our team,” says Elizabeth.

In another room, two women – Gael and Venice – have just finished making 200 conference bags out of recycled billboard advertising skins for the Museum Aotearoa conference. Now they are stacking heavy duty aprons, also made from billboard skins, to sell at the Porirua Saturday Fair.

Gael was on long-term ACC through a work-related injury before she came to Mana Recovery a year ago. Now she has a full time role as Learning and Business Development Manager.

“She does remarkable work for us and has taken over our ReV product line. We make goods out of recycled billboard advertising skins. She designs and makes them and has taught Venice how to use an industrial sewing machine,” says Elizabeth.

The work is a completely new skill for Venice, who has gained a full-time work as a retail and sewing assistant.

Every day, Elizabeth works with people who are getting a new chance to unlock their potential and gain a sense of self worth, independence and purpose in their lives.

“When people are working here, they are earning wages that they have grown themselves through our businesses,” says Elizabeth. “When I look at the people whose lives are enriched by working in our businesses, I know we have to do everything we can to keep going.”

*At the time of publishing poor physical health was keeping Joe from working, but his job is there when his health improves.

Trash Palace and more

Mana Recovery runs eight small businesses focused on sustainability, training and employing people who have barriers to work.

Trash Palace sells a treasure trove of recycled goods dropped off by people on their way to the tip. Each week up to 2,700 bargain hunters, collectors and dealers visit the shop.

Business Recycling @ Mana Recovery collects paper and plastics from local businesses, sorts it and sends it to recycling companies, mostly in New Zealand.

The Warehouse is a key partner in this enterprise.

Arts @ Mana Recovery rescues materials destined for the tip and uses them to make bags, aprons, cat baskets, footstools and recycling bins. The workshops are fun, creative and therapeutic.

The Nursery @ Mana Recovery grows native plants for sale to the wider community and landscaping contractors. The garden has therapeutic benefits for trainees, who can gain horticulture skills and qualifications.

Grounds Maintenance, Gardening and Lawnmowing @ Mana Recovery provides mobile services to local businesses and residents. Trainees gain landscaping and horticulture skills and qualifications.

E-Waste Metal Recycling Facility collects electronic and metal waste. It recovers valuable metals and usable parts, and repairs electrical appliances for resale.

Contract Work @ Mana Recovery carries out jobs that might not be viable for local businesses to do themselves. For example, assembling candles for National Candles or washing out plastic cores for re-use by Cryovac Sealed Air.

Inorganic Collection Service offers Porirua residents two free collections of inorganic materials each year.