Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Owen Glenn trips up on Otara pledge

Local board member John McCracken at Ngati Otara Park. Photo / Doug Sherring
Local board member John McCracken at Ngati Otara Park. Photo / Doug Sherring

Sir Owen Glenn has failed to keep his promises to help community organisations in Otara after delivering just a fraction of the money he pledged.

In a highly publicised announcement early in July 2012, the multimillionaire businessman said he would donate $8 million to community organisations in the South Auckland suburb. But the Family Centre has not been built, many of the bicycles promised to children have not been delivered, and projects like Garden to Table never got off the ground.

Most of the organisations received a letter just before last Christmas stating Sir Owen wanted to focus his attention on the Glenn Inquiry into child abuse/domestic violence — itself dogged by controversy — and that funding would cease.

One of the cornerstones in Sir Owen's vision was to support Otara Health build a Families Centre. The organisation received funding for the 2012-13 year but it dried up before the centre could be built.

"That was a big deal," said Otara Health general manager John Coffey. "The expectations Otara had was that more money would be made available. But we were grateful for the support provided by the Glenn Family Foundation. It was additional money we wouldn't have had otherwise."

The foundation was also to help introduce the Garden to Table scheme to eight Otara schools, providing education on how to grow vegetables and fruit and to cook the produce. Founder Catherine Bell said the programme had been pledged about $270,000 but that was reduced to just $40,000.

"We removed ourselves from the arrangement at a point and we became uncomfortable with it and decided that we no longer wanted to be involved. It's a big shame because it would have had an amazing impact on that community."

Sistema Aotearoa, which teaches children music, received just under half of its funding; the Young Enterprise Trust, which offers enterprise, entrepreneurship and financial literacy programmes, had its three-year contract cut after one year; Teach First NZ, which works to increase the supply of science, maths and English teachers to low-decile schools, received three-quarters of its funding; the Springboard Trust, which offers leadership training for school principals, pulled out because it did not require additional funding; the Eastern Refuge Society received no funding.

The foundation also funded Bike On NZ to provide bicycles to two Otara primary schools, but only one school has so far received them.

Trustee Paul McArdle said he had not followed up with the foundation about getting the additional bikes.

The foundation was also to provide bikes and bike sheds for a new cycle track being built by Otara-Papatoetoe local board in Ngati Otara Park. The track has been built but no bikes or sheds have arrived yet. Local board member John McCracken said it was "hugely disappointing" for the groups missing out.

"The funding would have made a real impact, " he said.

McCracken believed it had always been Sir Owen's intention to follow through with the projects but the foundation had been stifled by matters "very much out of his control".

In a statement, Sir Owen said he was forced to limit the foundation's contributions to provide the abuse inquiry with the resource it needed to "deliver the best possible outcomes for New Zealand's most vulnerable families".

"This was not an easy decision ... because I am well aware of the important work being done by so many good folk in places like Otara. I am hopeful that the funding we have distributed will have helped those organisations and done some good."


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- Herald on Sunday

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