What started as a place to chat over coffee has grown into a way for Housing New Zealand tenants to meet their neighbours and give back to their community.
The communal café on the top floor of Housing New Zealand’s Dixon Street Flats in downtown Wellington was started to bring tenants together.
It has since evolved into a place where tenants inspire one another to contribute to the wider community by volunteering for local non-profits and starting projects of their own.
Like a lot of great ideas, the idea to start a communal café was proposed over a cup of tea.
There are more 100 tenants living in mainly one and two-bedroom units at the Dixon Street Flats. Many of them are older single people so isolation can become an issue. Following the death of an elderly tenant in 2016, Housing New Zealand brought tenants together to discuss ideas that could help strengthen the community.
Tenants said that they would like a place to connect with one another and support agencies.
HNZ swung into action to provide a café space on the top floor of the building where tenants could catch up with one another and talk to support services if they needed to.
The café opens weekly and offers free coffee and food donated by the Boys and Girls Institute and is ‘staffed’ by St John’s Church volunteers.
Tenants quickly started to take ownership of the initiative by offering to bake for the café and donating items such as milk jugs, cutlery, and even a couch.
“The really cool thing is how everyone gets in and contributes what they can,” says Dixon Street case manager Sarah. “The café has made a significant difference in the lives of residents, strengthening their involvement in their community and reducing the risk of isolation.”
What started as a place to meet and chat over coffee has quickly grown into a hub for community-focussed ideas. The café has inspired tenants to get out into the community and take up volunteering opportunities.
Tenants have created their own community gardens on site and are about to start their own composting and installing raised beds to increase their range of vegetables.
Some are also now volunteering for The Free Store, which redistributes surplus food from Wellington’s eateries.
It’s hoped that the café will continue to be a place where residents can form relationships with their neighbours and give back to the wider community.