As winter sets in, bonds in rural Canterbury are strengthened by vegetables donated from the farm, soup cooked at the marae and children climbing into fire engines.
“The aim is to connect people with each other and with the organizations that serve their area,” says Kate White, coordinator of the Connecting Mid Canterbury Charitable Trust.
In May and June, the trust hosts seven interactive and fun events at community halls in small communities as well as in the town of Methven.
One of the goals is to get people off their farms and mingle with others, so the events take place right after work on weekdays, with childcare and a light dinner provided.
“It starts at 5:30 p.m. – there’s no one there at 5:30!” Kate says. Some arrive at 5:45 p.m. and others dribble afterwards.
Locals bought into the idea: some donated one-time prizes, and Lovett Family Farms donated world-class potatoes, beets, squash and onions for the soup.
Two Hakatere Marae members tried their hand at cooking Thai pumpkin soup, not knowing what it would taste like.
“The vegetarian soup was a stretch for them,” Kate says, noting that they were filling up because the original chef had to step down. The soup was a hit.
“It was really delicious and everyone loved it.”
Using other seasonal vegetables, the marae also prepared a beet and potato soup. For meat lovers, local Lions Clubs host sausage grills.
During the first hour, the children have fun tinkering and climbing on a fire truck, kindly driven by the firefighters.
“Kids are really having fun – turning on the fire truck lights and running around.”
Kate says adults are finding out more about the trust’s Keep Learning and TimeBank initiatives early on.
They access relevant websites to answer questions and win one-time prizes:
it worked well in halls that had mobile reception!”
They also hear about Rural Support Mid Canterbury, Neighborhood Support, Wellbeing Ōpuke, Citizens Advice Bureau, Mid Canterbury Newcomers Network, the marae and Covid-19 support available in the district.
Representatives of organizations talk about how they can help rural people.
For example, the Rural Support Trust could showcase the children’s book it distributes on surviving drought and other hard times.
The second hour is an opportunity for participants to get to know each other better while eating kai.
Kate can’t believe how quickly and positively all the organizations got involved in the Connecting Community events.
Develop resilience and well-being
Four events took place at Lagmhor Westerfield Hall, Hinds Community Centre, Mt Hutt Memorial Hall in Methven and Ardamine Hall in Dorie.
The next ones will be held at Hakatere Marae on June 2, Wakanui Community Hall on June 7 and Mt Somers Hall on June 15.
Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu funded them through a $20,000 grant to the trust. The goal is to help rural families help themselves and build resilience and well-being.
Kate says little Dorie had the biggest response, with at least 50 locals showing up to her room.
It was because key people in the area had said they would come. She notes that sometimes small communities have strong networks.
So far, the meetings have attracted mainly families whose parents are between 30 and 40 years old, although some retirees from Rakaia have participated.
She says sadly very few migrants participated, although many work on farms in central Canterbury.
The grant also paid for promotional brochures to be designed and delivered to 4,400 rural delivery boxes in this agriculture-rich part of the South Island.
Kate says that in the aftermath of the events, ideas are starting to flow from local communities about what they could do in the future.
Together, they will see what the needs are and how they can meet them.
Keep Learning organizes around 40 events a year, usually in Ashburton and some in rural areas.
A suicide prevention workshop is planned for Methven and an “easy meals” workshop for Rakaia.
Kate says Keep Learning Mid Canterbury provides opportunities to keep learning and connecting, which the Mental Health Foundation endorses.
“Being out of the house and with someone else…connection is important to people.”
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