Rotorua's Fordlands is a community full of contradictions.

Where there are weathered houses, broken windows and unleashed pitbulls, there are also homes with perfectly manicured gardens and children playing happily in the streets.

A University of Auckland report this year ranked Fordlands as the most deprived suburb in the country.

Late Thursday night police were called to a Bellingham Cres property to reports of a fight involving up to 10 people. It's not the first time Fordlands has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Advertisement

The Rotorua Daily Post went to the suburb to talk to residents about their home.

It's Friday morning. A teenager rides his motorbike up and down the road, an elderly woman digs weeds out of her garden, a man and woman drink Cody's on their porch, a pair of shoes hang from a power line.

Eyes peer through fences and out from behind broken blinds. The stares don't feel threatening. A little suspicious maybe. Wary.

It is easy to see why the rough side of Fordlands is too often the side presented to the world. Its residents put up thick shields; their gritty attitudes daring you to ask questions.

A quiet Fordlands street on a sunny day. Photo/Ben Fraser
A quiet Fordlands street on a sunny day. Photo/Ben Fraser

Many have lived here all their lives. They know what is said about their community and they know its reputation. But it only takes a peek under the surface to see they are also fiercely loyal and committed to making their lives better.

An established Black Power patch, Fordlands has seen its fair share of gang altercations. Thursday night's brawl was just the latest.

While police say they are called to gang-related incidents' "sporadically", when they are, they're serious.

Although the gang presence is unmovable, it doesn't define the people who live there.

Kelly Tahitahi, 45, has lived in Fordlands for most of his life. He was born and raised in the suburb before moving out of town, only to find himself back where it all began.

"If you were to put me on a luxury island with everything I wanted, I would still find my way back here. Ford Block is my heart."

Tahitahi is a member of Black Power and wears his shirt with pride but thinks the boiling tension between gangs needs to stop.

"We just try to live peacefully over here. I wake up, I mow my lawns, I have a beer and I relax.

"If you show us respect, then we'll give it right back."

Loose dogs lay in the sun looking over a Fordlands street. Photo/Ben Fraser
Loose dogs lay in the sun looking over a Fordlands street. Photo/Ben Fraser

Tahitahi was diagnosed with leukaemia two years ago and is receiving blood transfusions to keep the cancer at bay.

He said the whole neighbourhood rallied behind him when he got the news.

"The love and support everyone showed me was amazing. We always look out for each other."

He said it didn't matter what race you are, if you lived in Fordlands you're part of the whanau.

"We all know each other here. I could walk down the street and someone will always yell out and offer a cup of tea. Whether we grew up together or you just moved in, I'll always show love."

His lifelong friend Piki Rapana, 65, feels the dangerous gangland reputation often associated with Fordlands doesn't tell the whole story.

"If people just see how we live and how we interact with each other they'll see it's not all bad. The neighbourhood is filled with lovely hearts who care."

An elderly resident who has lived in the suburb for about 10 years insisted she always felt safe.

"People care. Whenever my little shih tzu barks too much I have neighbours who look over the fence to make sure nothing has happened to me."

Tahitahi and Rapana think the problem lies with the youth and a rising drug problem that was once non-existent.

"Back when I was a kid we never had synthetic drugs. It's so easy for young people today to get hold of them and it's at the root of crime in the neighbourhood," Rapana said.

For years, head coach at Central Rotorua Boxing Club Rex Jenkins has been pulling local kids off the streets to use boxing as a way to keep them out of trouble.

Unfortunately, sometimes the trouble finds them.

"I've had to kick a few kids out because they were bringing dope into my gym and then I'd never see them again. It's a real shame but it happens."

Jenkins has lived in Fordlands for 53 years and he believes gang violence has gradually decreased.

"I think more of the place than I did a few years ago. There's been times where my wife has been terrified with what happens on the streets but it's been getting better year by year.

"Everyone knows Fordlands as Ford Block which comes with a rough reputation that I think will be hard to shake off, no matter what good is happening in the community."