On ĀKAU’s website this Kaikohe design and architectural studio sums up their approach to community education: “We value the ideas young people have for making their environment more awesome. By using design to engage taitamariki we hope to walk alongside them from exclusion, to inclusion, to greatness.”

Their process, they explain, is to – “empower taitamariki around Aotearoa to feel more connected and creative so that they can navigate the future with confidence. We help taitamariki recognise and harness the creativity of their tupuna by involving them in tangible projects that have real impact for taitamariki, their whānau and their community.”

Their ĀKAU Futures programmes provide tamariki with the opportunity to learn through a practical and hands on approach. Ruby Watson, one of the co-founders of ĀKAU, says that some of the tamariki they work with are pretty disengaged with traditional education: “At ĀKAU their ideas are encouraged and respected and tangible outcomes mean they have something they are proud of, something to show their whānau. Learning a design process doesn’t necessarily mean we are teaching all taitamariki to be designers per se but we are showing how the design process, decision making, testing, ideas, development etc are all important factors in any part of life. We have found that working within schools has great impact on students, teachers and also on our ability to reach more taitamariki.”

So the approach has been to go into schools and run workshops in the community, including on marae, helping young designers realise their vision. For example, they have designed and built forts and been involved in the design of a local petrol station.

At the end of 2019 ĀKAU developed a Kete Kaiako, providing information for teachers to deliver the design programme with their classes. When the lockdown began, they turned this kete into an online resource so that whānau can do the activities, or teachers can use them as part of their online teaching curriculum. “The great thing about making it online,” says Ruby, “is that we’ll be able to give this to teachers when we’re back to ‘normal’ rather than the more low-tech version we had developed. And it will be available nationally.”

One of the tasks in the kete is for tamariki to design a flag that represented their bubble and create a sense of kotahitanga, or unity, while also getting involved in fun activities.

Back in 2015, when ĀKAU started their community education programme, they were bringing rangatahi into their studio and helping them through some foundation design studies, preparing them for a career in design. While the kaupapa has broadened, there are still opportunities for taitamariki to get onto a design career pathway: The ĀKAU Leaders! Programme provides an opportunity for young people to get a paid internship at ĀKAU to develop their skills, experiences and connections through
contributing to the ĀKAU kaupapa. They learn how to be an ĀKAU facilitator and work on real projects within the studio and get regular mentoring.

To increase access to career opportunities the organisation facilitates an online network called ĀKAU Professionals! – connecting creative professionals in the design and architecture industries with taitamariki around Aotearoa.

The lockdown has moved ĀKAU further along the continuum from a local or regional organisation – to a national one.