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One part-time administrator and about 50 volunteers have taken on the challenge of making Papakura sustainable, or as their website says, ‘Creating a sustainable world for our mokopuna.’

This Auckland community is home to about 60,000 people.

“What we are trying to do,” says Board Chair Rosemary Nash, “is provide practical hands-on activities and education workshops that help people to understand what we are talking about. They might then talk with other people, passing on knowledge about how to cut our individual carbon footprint by reducing waste and making the best use of the resources that we have got.

“The waste generated every week by Auckland city inhabitants is equivalent to a football field filled up to the top of its goal posts. The waste releases methane warms the planet and pathogens leach into our waterways. We don’t want these landfills proliferating.

“We want people to be thinking – is the planet going to be habitable for our grandchildren and what can we do to slow climate change down? What do we need to do, to be resilient. Food security is a big one – and repurposing things. Not just throwing things away. The mindset starts with people learning about the waste hierarchy and thinking about what they purchase, so they are not buying highly packaged goods.”

The organisation’s origins go back to 2013 when Dale Granich started running various projects in the community, including a sustainable market.

Then in 2017 the trust was established, and the board was able to access Auckland City Council’s Waste Minimisation and Innovation Fund. A little later a Foundation North grant allowed them to lease the small shop they call their base. Other funders include the local community board, Lotteries and a small grant from Onehunga High school’s ACE programme.

The trust has built 25 planters in the town centre, with herbs and vegetables for the community to harvest. These gardens are also used as a teaching tool, with a tutor providing workshops on how to make good compost, save your own seeds and grow your own food. “Learning that they can do this, blows some people away,” says Mary.

Sewing sessions are particularly popular, teaching people how to mend, make their own clothes, or repurpose fabric, for example turning old T-shirts into garden twine, and old clothes into something someone might need, like cushion covers. Anything that stops stuff piling up in the landfill.

The base has now become a community hub where people can come and learn, recycle and repurpose. It serves as a community eco-resource centre for learning activities and projects. Workshops or upcycling sessions are run every day.

“The base is also a collection point,” says Rosemary, ”for things that people don’t want, but can be reused, like blankets and wool. It also provides storage for resources and equipment, is a transit point for hard to recycle items and demonstrates sustainable living practices. Here plants filter the air and our worm farm processes scraps and supplies fertilizer for our plants.

“On Wednesday afternoon the creative group comes in to turn some of the donated goods into saleable items. At the moment we are making hot water bottle covers out of old blankets, they are really popular. We are also using the blankets to make mitten-shaped wheat bags for people with arthritis. They find them very helpful. And we have made 1000 pairs of woollen slippers out of all the bits of wool that people have left over and dropped into our shop. They are distributed by an organisation called Kootuitui, that supports low decile schools.”

The Awhio Mai Peke reusable bags which are stocked by ten local retailers have been a big success. The creative group have now made over 4000 of them. People can either return them or keep them.

Other workshops teach people about how to avoid buying products in plastic containers – so they can learn to make things like cleaning and skin care products. They learn to cook and use the herbs so freely available in the planters – so they avoid the plastic that takeaways or many supermarket products use. The raranga workshops teach people how to make useful things out of flax; at the crochet workshops people use the left-over wool to make things they can use.

All these sessions are also providing an important opportunity for people to socialise, talk with others and make friends with other people who are also working to make the community more sustainable.

And the sustainable market on a Saturday is another meeting point, where people can buy handcrafted and upcycled or recycled goods and sustainable living products.

While the lockdowns interrupted their workshops, their Facebook page had a lot of activity during that time with people going online to find out how they could find alternatives to things they might normally buy. “We have those conversations all the time,” says Mary. “For example we have a group of children doing art and craft, and we help them to think – how can we make our own biodegradable glue?”

Jill Yellowlees has been a volunteer for two years: “It has been pretty amazing, the things I have learned. It gets you thinking about how to reuse things. It’s exciting. I’m always learning something and people are really nice. The whole place has a really good vibe. It’s a nice way of meeting people and learning how you can be a constructive part of a changing world. Currently I am volunteering at the base. We have a beautiful display there at the moment, showing people how you can upcycle things for gifts. There’s a dolls house made entirely out of recycled materials. It’s building awareness. People are stopping and looking, and taking it all in. And there’s so much more we could be doing. The trust is a very valuable community resource.”

Rosemary says the impact is hard to measure, but they get lots of feedback from people, saying how important they think the organisation is, and how much they support it.

“Funding is always a challenge – as is volunteer and administration overload. But all of us are committed to helping our community change. We are in the middle of a climate crisis which means that we have to do things radically differently. It is a hard pill to swallow.”