For the last two years, Whanganui Regional Health Network has held a contract with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), to provide a community connection service. This involves two Community Connectors/Kaiarahi supporting those in need to access the services they require, and to reduce barriers to employment, education, housing or wellbeing.
This has seen the Connectors working with a wide range of people and whānau, communities, providers and stakeholders; assisting them in a multitude of ways. During the COVID response, their role was extended to support the welfare needs of people and whānau isolating at home, whether it be an immediate need or a subsequent need due to isolation. “Community Connectors were introduced by MSD during the emergency phase of the response, to ensure individuals and whānau could self-isolate safely,” says Gloria Campbell, MSD Regional Commissioner.
While the Connectors have primarily worked with individuals and whānau, there have been opportunities to support wider groups using discretionary funding. One project has been the recent installation of a raised garden in the Jack Brotherston pensioner complex.
Having a social connection strengthens people’s wellbeing and following the periods of isolation with COVID, this project enables communities to come together. Additionally, with the cost of fruit and vegetables increasing by 23% in the last year, this will also help with putting some food on the table.
Community Connector, Awhi Haenga, came up with the raised garden concept for the complex. “Some of the residents were trying to grow their own vegetables in the very small flower gardens by their front doors, so this is a better alternative,” says Ms Haenga. “Many of our kaumatua and whānau are struggling to afford fruit and vegetables, and this is one way to support their health and wellbeing. It will also encourage our kaumatua to work together and build those nurturing relationships through their maara kai.”
As a smaller version of a community garden, the residents are excited to be able to grow their own in a manageable space. “It’s wonderful having this garden and everyone can help out with it. We have planted radishes, silverbeet, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbages and strawberries,” says Jenny, one of the avid gardeners in the complex.
Whanganui Regional Health Network approached the Men’s Shed to build the structure and they were up for the challenge. The result is a solid and well-built garden, made at an appropriate height for the residents and situated in a shared area of the complex. The Men’s Shed are also interested in undertaking future builds, for as long as the contract allows.