In 2011 Lily and her siblings brought their ageing mother, Ngairima Crawford, back home to Tolaga Bay.

When she was a child Ngairima’s own mother had died of TB and Ngairima was sent to an orphanage Heni Materoa before being looked after by whānau. Then, as a young woman she had run away to Wellington, married a German seaman who jumped ship, had six children, and brought them up in Christchurch on her own.

Lily tells the story of how her mother’s life experiences, and her own, drove her to return to her homelands and work with her community to help create economic and social development in a small town on the East Coast.

Buying the Inn
“Our mother taught us about our Māori culture and whakapapa ties to the East Coast. We always felt a longing to return to our homelands and connect with our marae and whānau.

“After leaving school at 17 I got involved in the wrong side of life. I knew I had to make changes, or I would end up in serious trouble. So I got a first aid certificate and did what a friend had done, became a nanny in London…

“It wasn’t for me! It was the only job I have ever been sacked from. So I went to a recruitment agency and worked all over London in bars, factories and offices, gaining lots of different skills, until eventually I became the managing director of the recruitment agency.

“Many years later I returned to Tolaga Bay. My youngest brother Kamil and Rico Gear purchased the Tolaga Bay Inn in Oct 2011. It was my job to oversee the daily operations running the café, bar and accommodation. It did not take long to realise that trading alone, would never enable our vision of restoring and preserving the inn and not to do so was not an option. She is part of our history. It is time we gave back but this time as the mothership for our community – to regenerate employment opportunities though self-employment.

“So we put the building into a trust making it a community asset, and decided that we would use it for other things including accommodation, a café, an information centre and a training hub.

“We want to create opportunities in our community. We are sick of poverty. Sick of having our teeth falling out because we can’t afford a dentist. Sick of having to pay for tangi by borrowing. We all have skills but there are no jobs, except seasonal work and forestry and forestry is literally killing us.

“We knew if we wanted to change things we couldn’t do it on our own, so we set out to find collaborative partnerships.

“The first was with the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT). Since we first partnered with them in 2016 we have run several in-house courses: a café course; a marae cookery course and a plastering course. We are not just the venue, we help them find people who might be interested in their courses. When you are running the local inn, you get to know all the locals and who might be interested and you can spread the word. One person who had been on the food and beverage course has now taken over the lease of the café in the inn, and several others have gone onto other jobs.

“Then late in May this year we had a hui with EIT. People from the community came along and others who couldn’t come sent in their ideas about the courses they would like in the future.

“We also have a partnership with Digital Wings and the 20/20 Trust. They have provided us with 10 computers and we have set up our technology hub for teaching social media, online business and general computer training. We have aligned with Huiterangiora Digitech, a local group which has created a Code Club for our rangatahi [see article on page 10]. If you are trained in coding you can do web design, create games – it is where the money is. If you are a good coder you can earn $100,000 plus. Coding is the brains behind everything. And it’s fun.

“We would like to deliver further online training opportunities including Banqer, which teaches rangatahi financial literacy.

“We also have many kaumatua who want to develop their technology skills so we are planning to run a programme for them.

“At the moment all of our classes are part time, but we allow people access between 10am and 3pm Monday to Friday so they can use the technology hub.

Innovation hub
“The other big thing that has happened this year is we have established our Tolaga Bay Innovation Hub: in January this year the MSD came and ran their two week Pop Up Business School. We had 37 participants.

“As a result the Ministry agreed to support five business plans. They are for: a native plants nursery; a virtual marae; tourism (fishing and crayfish tours); a natural lip balm made from kawakawa; and a vegetable and fruit truck providing home deliveries.

“Each business will get a small start-up fund, mentoring, accounting support, and weekly workshops – support for 12 months so the businesses can reach their milestones. We know that a lot of start ups fail because they don’t get the support. This won’t happen here. We will all be working together, sharing skills and resources, and we will be bringing in specialist professional support as needed. 

Looking ahead
“At the moment we are employing a consultancy to help us draft a work plan so we have a timeline for the further development of our programmes, income generation, and restoration.

“We also expect to be running cottage courses, teaching things like cooking – how to smoke fish or make Māori bread; arts and crafts – making things that can be sold at markets. We also want to display local art at the inn, promoting our local artists and helping them sell their work.

“The goal is that our people can stay on their homelands, develop more skills and earn a decent income.”