Initiative hailed for wellbeing efforts

Adell Cox
Adell Cox
An independent report has found a micro-funding initiative established in the Southern Lakes during Covid was a standout performer in supporting community wellbeing.

The 63-page report prepared by evaluation practitioner Dr Delwyn Goodrick, evaluated Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group, and singled out initiatives, including the Connecting Communities fund, which was described as "a highly visible initiative that extended the reach of mental wellbeing activities" across the Queenstown Lakes, Central Otago and Fiordland communities.

Three times a year, eligible not-for-profit groups were able to apply for up to $1000 from the fund to run community activities which aligned with evidence-based wellbeing strategies "Five Ways to Wellbeing" and "Te Whare Tapa Whā" - a total of $504,000 was allocated to 556 groups over eight funding rounds.

Dr Goodrick’s evaluation also identified four key areas of improved mental health and wellbeing outcomes - literacy, knowledge about supports, access to community-led initiatives and stronger partnerships to support and sustain mental wellbeing.

In a statement, Te Hau Toka chairwoman Adell Cox said she was pleased the report found the group’s work helped give locals "permission to speak" about mental wellbeing.

"While there’s more work to do, we’re humbled by what’s been collectively achieved.

"It shows that building community capacity and resilience by giving people the tools, education and support to look after themselves - and others - is critically important in helping them recover from adversity.

Dr Goodrick, a psychologist who had been working as an academic and evaluation practitioner for 25 years, said the Southern Lakes communities were hit particularly hard by Covid, and Te Hau Toka’s work had been important in supporting recovery.

The report found the group’s work was effective because it came from experienced, knowledgeable and connected people who "walked the talk" of community wellbeing, met every week, and made transparent decisions based on criteria and were well-documented.

The governance group, comprising the iwi representative of the seven runaka, three mayors of the region and the Health New Zealand - Southern director also provided strong support and advocacy.

Once the group received funding in 2021, through the government’s Tourism Communities: Support, Recovery and Re-set Plan, it mobilised a programme of work and investment into the communities.

Three mental wellbeing co-ordinators/navigators were employed in the Central Lakes and Fiordland to support wellbeing initiatives and ensure resources were easily accessible, soon followed by a communications and engagement role.

One of the legacy initiatives was the funding of Te Pou to adapt the Youth Mental Health First Aid programme for New Zealand-specific use and pilot it in the Southern Lakes.

Overall, Dr Goodrick’s evaluation found Te Hau Toka’s initiatives aligned with established evidence about what worked to support mental wellbeing.

"This has reinforced the benefit of ensuring the community ‘owns’ the programme from the beginning so that mental wellbeing outcomes continue even if the funding ends", Dr Goodrick said.