Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Aid groups link in new hub

Youthline creates a 'mirror' facility and will be joined by legal advice agency Youthlaw.

Counsellor Hannah Wood is studying for her master's in psychology. Photo / Natalie Slade
Counsellor Hannah Wood is studying for her master's in psychology. Photo / Natalie Slade

A derelict fire station in Papatoetoe has been transformed into one of New Zealand's biggest youth work centres.

The national helpline service Youthline has moved part of its phone counselling team out of its Ponsonby head office into the old station at 145 St George St, creating a "mirror" facility that can keep the phone service operating if anything happens to Ponsonby.

"We particularly wanted to strengthen this hub after our Christchurch experience," said Youthline chief executive Stephen Bell. The agency's southern centre was wiped out in last year's earthquake.

And the legal advice agency, Youthlaw, will move nine of its 10 staff from central Auckland into the former fire station next week.

Managing solicitor Vanushi Walters said Youthlaw's lawyers and Youthline's counsellors would combine to give young people a "wraparound" phone service, and would be well placed to represent in court some of the most vulnerable children and young people.

"We do some representation work targeted at young people with particularly complex matters, or what we call public interest cases," she said.

"It's young people in communities like those in South Auckland where you tend to find those complex cases - where a young person might be facing expulsion from school and also has safety issues at home and perhaps special needs issues."

The old building, donated by the former Manukau City Council and almost completely rebuilt at a cost of $4 million, also houses the Counties Manukau District Health Board's Centre for Youth Health.

Ivita Health Services, which provides health services for young people in the care of Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS), will also be based there.

Youthline counsellors Hannah Wood, 22, and Sina Sa'u, 21, both started as volunteers and are now paid staff. Ms Wood is mentoring new volunteers and Ms Sa'u hopes to become a mentor soon.

"We are getting more and more volunteers and we don't have enough mentors to mentor trainees," Ms Sa'u said. Ms Wood is still studying part-time for her master's in psychology at Massey University and said many volunteers were also studying psychology or social work.

"But what is really cool is that they might equally have a law degree or a business degree," she said. "I admire people who might be a lawyer or a police officer who do their real job and then come here at night to volunteer."

The new centre will be opened this morning by Mayor Len Brown, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and leaders of the main funders including the Lion Foundation, ASB Community Trust, Vodafone Foundation and The Warehouse.


On the web: youthline.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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