Growing a Sense of Community

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16 November 2018

Shared gardens are helping Housing New Zealand tenants to connect with their neighbours.

When a group of people living in a Housing New Zealand neighbourhood in central Auckland came together one hot summer’s day, the plan was to build a shared garden, but what they created was something far greater.

The shared garden has led to a greater sense of community and collaboration between neighbours. It has fostered a sense of pride and accomplishment and provided an ongoing source of nutritious food for the residents and their neighbours.

The idea for the garden came from Housing New Zealand case manager Marianne Halaar, who had worked closely with many of the tenants at the Auckland complex. Marianne says some of the tenants had never planted a garden from scratch before, but were keen to learn.

Before planting day, planter boxes, organic garden mix, plants (flowers, vegetables and herbs), seeds, tools, and garden seats were bought by Housing New Zealand and delivered. Tenants tidied up around the complex, including weeding the communal areas.

Tenants from four separate buildings joined in to help with the planting and, Marianne says, there was a real “buzz” in the air as everyone saw the garden come to life.

As well as being stoked with seeing all their hard work result in overflowing planter boxes, the gardeners were also excited about the healthy, fresh food they could harvest and eat in the future.

Following the day of hard mahi, Housing New Zealand hosted a barbecue. One resident said that working together in harmony on the garden day was one of the happiest times in their life. Others said they felt a real sense of pride in their achievement and felt that community spirit was alive and well.

The garden group continues to grow from strength to strength, with new members joining all the time. The group is also responsible for maintaining the gardens and ensuring they continue to thrive.

“It’s all part of building a sense of community, where people like where they live and get on with their neighbours – which is the outcome we wanted,” Marianne says.

‘If I can help out, I always will’

In another part of Auckland, Housing New Zealand tenant Noel Le Noel is growing 23 different fruits and vegetables in a small garden at the back of his unit. He doesn’t have a lot of space to work with, but he produces a bountiful harvest that he shares with his neighbours.

Noel’s passion for gardening began a few years ago when he was diagnosed with lymphoma and started researching natural remedies. He read that eating chillies may help with some types of lymph node cancer so was willing to give it a go, in addition to chemotherapy and radiation.

“At one time I was growing 14 different types of chillies, from very mild ones to the really hot ones,” Noel says.

Noel’s cancer has been in remission for seven years and he feels the chillies helped. Since his chilli growing days, Noel has kept his green fingers busy.

“I grow just about everything in my garden. You name it and I probably grow it,” Noel says.

Noel gives away any vegetables he doesn’t need to neighbours and friends.

“Fruit and vegetables are really expensive to buy so if I can help out, I always will,” Noel says.

In his spare time Noel uses his many creative talents to make garden ornaments, which he paints and decorates with paua shells and beads.

In recognition of all his hard work Noel received a Housing New Zealand Garden Award. It’s hoped that Noel’s initiative inspires others to have a go at gardening and growing food for themselves and their whanau and neighbours.

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