Rise issue 07 cover

Like the phoenix from the ashes - one community's uprising

three kids smiling

Everyone loves a great resurrection story - it's even better when it's your own.

Residents of South Auckland's Otahuhu can take pride in being responsible for their community's story of renewal.

After an upsurge of neighbourhood violence in 2006, accompanied by negative media attention, the community knew it was time for positive action.

People in the neighbourhood, including those from local schools, churches and sports groups, were eager to come on board in order to transform their community. Change was officially set in motion when the Ministry of Social Development and the Auckland City Council offered to provide funding for the creation of a community steering group.

"We initiated the Otahuhu Steering Group to give the community a voice - a chance to bang their drum - where before it wasn't there," says community development coordinator Justine McFarlane. "People living in Otahuhu were lacking community pride, and we wanted to change that."

The steering group started by asking residents about changes they would like to see. Convened yearly, this community forum provides a meeting place for members to share their concerns and suggest areas for change. By seeking the opinions of the community's residents, coordinators are better able to determine the resources necessary to turn the group's hopes into reality.

Three years on, the steering group has now hired a community development coordinator responsible for organising the group's ideas into a cohesive game-plan. Louise Spokes was only too happy to take on the role.

"It's been really exciting to be part of this - and challenging at the same time," says Louise. "Our focus right now is increasing residents' sense of safety, youth activity, overall community environment and community pride."

In a relatively short time, the community is already reaping the benefits associated with a decisive plan of action. People are joining together to paint over graffiti, and everyone is making more of an effort to keep the streets rubbish-free. A regularly-circulated newsletter is sent to residents advising of weekly and one-off community events, such as the Otahuhu Family Fun Day, Gladiators of Change to promote positive parenting, and the first annual Otahuhu Youth Expo. A recently held "gardening competition" proved a fun way to encourage residents to put a little extra effort into making their neighbourhood more beautiful.

"The changes in the community are really marked", says 12-year resident Christine O'Brien. "People who live here are actually proud of the area."