Clean-up crew is fixing landscape

By ILONA HANNE

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With the heat of the summer sun beating down, it is easy to forget that just six months ago the region was hit by one of the worst flooding events in memory.

Unless you live out in eastern Taranaki, where the landscape still bears many visible reminders of the millions of dollars worth of damages, including extensive slipping, soil erosion and damage to fencing caused by the June floods and heavy rain.

Slowly though, this landscape is changing, thanks partly to the efforts of the six members of the Stratford District Enhanced Taskforce Green crew. Enhanced Taskforce Green is a government initiative which allows clean-up teams to be formed when an emergency has caused significant damage in a region.

The crew are all job seekers, who were offered the opportunity to interview for a position on the team. The six successful applicants were then given training covering health and safety and first aid before being set to work on farms in the district.

They work hard, says Mike Maxwell, who is the co-ordinator for the crew. He has had "really positive" feedback from farmers who have had the crew work on their land. Before the crew go to any property, Mike talks to the farmer to find out what work is needed, and then relays this to the team. He then checks back with the farmer regularly to ensure the work is being done to standard.

"They have been repairing fences, clearing driveways, doing whatever needs doing to help farmers get their land back to how it should be."

As well as the Stratford District-based crew, other crews have been working in the Waitotara and New Plymouth districts. All three crews are overseen by South Taranaki District Council (STDC) on behalf of all of the councils in Taranaki.

While the crews are employed by STDC, the funding comes from central government and each crew consists of locally-based jobseekers.

"So the Stratford crew consists of people from Eltham, Ngaere and Stratford," says Mike.

Mike says while some of the crew may never have worked on a farm before, "they have all taken to it, and some of them are talking about looking for farm-based work after their contract ends". That is one of the real bonuses of the scheme.

"It is opening their eyes to an industry they didn't know much about before, and giving them good transferable skills they can use."

For Kimberley-Rose Bourne, the only girl on the Stratford crew, the work experience has been invaluable.

"I know I definitely want a job in the industry now, and I think employers will look more favourably at me with this experience."

Phillipa McBride, who farms on Mangaehu Road with her husband John, says the crew worked well doing a range of tasks, including fencing and clearing silt.

"They've been good. We are happy with the work done."

After 12 weeks of helping local farmers, the contract for the Stratford crew is about to end.

"If we can get more funding, we will certainly extend their contract as there is still a clear need."

- Stratford Press

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