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Consolidating community connections for a wonderful Wairarapa

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If you’re part of a community group doing great stuff, it’s often hard to work out who else in your area is doing similar work and how they’re doing it.

How do you share information when resources are so limited? Community Networks Wairarapa brings together networks of social sector organisations across three communities in Wairarapa – South Wairarapa, Carterton and Masterton – and it’s benefitting everyone in the community.

Community Networks Wairarapa applied to Eastern & Central Community Trust for operational funds, which goes towards funding coordinator Kara Pennington’s role. Kara is directly involved in organising regular forums for each location, and seeking out the right people to attend the meetings.

The network is open to anybody interested in working towards community wellbeing, and over 150 organisations are members. Kara also manages the Facebook page and regularly emails newsletters out keeping people up-to-date with what’s happening in the region.

“It’s about creating the space to enable the right discussions, so we can move forward together on particular issues,” she says. “What I do is not part of people’s core business – they’re already focused on their work – but it gives everyone the chance to get together and share their knowledge and experiences in a safe environment.”

It also enables Kara to have a helicopter view over what’s happening in the region, and spot any opportunities for organisations and people to work more closely together, or identify issues that are becoming more urgent.

The networking forums are often the launch point for community initiatives. “As an example, we heard that the Department of Internal Affairs was keen to assist with a community-led development programme. We invited them to present at one of our meetings in Featherston. After talking with the network, we could see there was a real desire to get some momentum, so we hosted a public meeting, and then developed a steering group,” says Kara.

“Our members use the forums as a ‘bumping space’ – it’s great for bringing down silos, encouraging integration and working together to understand what others are doing. It’s also great for introducing people who are new to the area, and working in this social sector space, to what’s happening in the Wairarapa region.”

She’s working on a survey of the social service providers in the region, to understand what is there on the ground, and where the gaps are. “If we know that, we can build a case for more support, and also decide collaboratively how to work on issues together.”

Kara says their long-term goal is to have a couple of people providing the equivalent resource of a full-time coordinator to work across the three locations. “If we can get funds for more staff time, we can do a lot more. Having three networks means sometimes having to juggle several things at once. If we can have a stable, sustainable source of funding, we can provide a better service to our communities.”