Community spirit part of making Otago such a great place to live

Trustees who serve on trusts and the organisations and volunteers they support should be celebrated, writes Dunedin North MP David Clark.

Over recent years, I served on the Otago Community Trust. As a trustee, I have had the opportunity to see Otago at its very best. Local volunteers take our donations and make them stretch further than we dream possible.

You know the people I am talking about. Many of you reading this will be these volunteers. Active in areas ranging from junior sports coaching, to women's refuge, to theatre groups, to the arts festival, to heritage preservation groups, to education and more. It is not too bold to claim that Otago's volunteers are a big part of what continues to make our province among the finest places in the country to live.

And the Otago Community Trust's antecedent, the local trustee savings bank, was created with the local community in mind.

The Otago Community Trust has its origins in the Dunedin Savings Bank, later the Otago Savings Bank which was originally established in 1864. In the late 1980s, ownership of the Trust Banks around New Zealand was devolved to charitable community trusts charged with plunging surpluses back into local community activities.

Links with the bank were severed in 1996, but the charitable trust and its donations have continued. Today, funds are invested in a variety of ways and trustees take seriously their task growing the donation base over time.

Since its first donation to the Otago Community Hospice, the Otago Community Trust has put more than $220 million back into the local community via donations to community organisations and projects. The trust supports organisations large and small and has supported many social service providers year in and year out. It recently donated $300,000 to support the chair in neurosurgery. It has contributed to renovations at the Regent and to the building of Moana Pool. The trust supports activities as diverse as the mayor's job taskforce and the Santa Parade.

While generally seen as benefactors of the community, trusts are not without controversy. The Otago Community Trust came in for criticism when it put $1 million, then its largest donation, into supporting the establishment of Moana Pool. It was recently criticised by some for reducing the ratepayer burden in respect of the stadium. Usually, however, the trust's activities are welcomed by all, and particularly welcomed by the community groups receiving support.

The Community Trust is not the only trust in town. Its activities mirror the activities of many other great organisations that fly under the radar in the wider Otago area.

Trustees serving on trusts across Otago are invariably involved at all levels in myriad other community organisations. They are generally good and busy people who are generous with their time. And their numbers are not few.

I want to place my thanks to these people on record.

Trusts invariably have requests for monies that exceed their ability to give, but the contributions in the social and voluntary sector that they support add significant value to our communities.

I have now resigned from my role as trustee and deputy chair in order to concentrate fully on my new role as member of Parliament for Dunedin North. In that role, I continue to have plenty of opportunity to visit valuable community groups and worthwhile projects. I now see even more clearly the value of the assistance provided by local trusts.

The trustees who serve on trusts and the organisations and the volunteers they support should be celebrated. They are an important part of what makes Otago a truly great place to live.

Our province has strong social capital and a community that cares.

I've often thought New Zealand would be a better place if it was a wee bit more like Otago.


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