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Fires A Reminder Of Dislocated Community

Auckland City Council - City Scene

This week's column is written by Western Bays Ward Councillor Penelope Sefuiva, chairperson of the Community Development Committee.

Devastating fires in two well-loved community centres, are a stark reminder of the massive community dislocation which such events create.

As part of the government's contribution to Freeman's Bay housing re-development in the 1970s Waiatarau has been the focus of many community, political and social activities. Ponsonby Community Centre by contrast, began life as a school, was purchased as a Council Hall in 1958, and then used to launch the country's first Citizens Advice Bureau during the 1970s. It has since developed into a $500,000.00 per year community resource, thanks to astute local management, community commitment and thousands of volunteer hours.

Loss of a valuable heritage building, and community asset, is the visible reminder of these links with the past. These centres have created immeasurable social capital. They were the catalyst for mixed housing programmes, community law centres, community house refuges for young street people, tenants' protection programmes, worker cooperatives, and the starting point for key community advocates and leaders.

Since 1990, government and local government have demonstrated a lack of commitment to public policy by withdrawing support from the voluntary sector.

Reduction in local and regional investment for community service providers has meant the closure of effective local help to those that need it. Efficiency drives have out-weighed good public policy practice. Today the citywide Grants Fund is under increasing pressure from community groups facing shortfalls from traditional sources.

Government's unwillingness to support overheads has resulted in key service providers looking to local government for assistance, while our staff identify the gaps in core services we are not funded to provide.

I believe that Council's role is that of an advocate and facilitator of resources directly impacting on local community's cultural, social and economic stability. Opportunities for effective partnerships between government and us can be a real step towards community survival.

Much talk recently has focussed on funding for the arts. Auckland City is by far the largest local body investor in the arts infrastructure of the region. However, we struggle to adequately support community arts that could add value locally. As other countries have demonstrated, the cultural sector brings benefits far beyond the original investment.

Creative activity stimulates an active local economy and, like exercise, provides healthy outcomes for individuals creatively engaged. We need to participate strategically with government in a common direction - one which actively engages our citizens in outcomes they seek. Council's strategic planning process has already identified values and directions the city should adopt.

In November we have the opportunity to select the partnership we prefer. It remains for all of us as voters to consider critically who will most likely assist with that delivery. Make your vote count!


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