Members of a large Whanganui family with gang connections had their first ever graduation on Thursday.

Fourteen people aged 16 to 36 graduated from a Level 2 course in Building, Construction and Allied Trades Skills in the Whanganui UCOL atrium.

None had much secondary education and most had been kicked out of school, Matipo Community Development Charitable Trust chairman Carlos Rippon said.

The whanau was inspired to take on education by their late koro, Craig Rippon, who started finding learning opportunities for them a few years ago. He wanted them educated, out of trouble and out of jail and got support from Rotary.

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All of the 14 now want to continue their training with a Level 4 Certificate in Carpentry course that begins next month.

Campbell Rippon, 16, said he wanted to get skills.

His brother Cadence, 18, wanted to "get credits in carpentry and keep my koro's cause going". He said he didn't learn much at school and learned more after being kicked out and getting a shearing job.

Sister Cilence, 20, said the course was "actually quite good". She liked making things like sawhorses and tables. She only had a year of secondary school and tried a business and administration course, but it didn't suit her.

"I didn't really like it. I prefer doing things," she said.

The 14 have their classes in a Heads Rd workshop and classroom, with literacy and numeracy help from YMCA tutors.

Others from the Matipo Trust are doing other courses. For Carlos Rippon it's horticulture provided by the Wai Ora Christian Community Trust. He said the combined effect of all that education was noticeable in the area.

"You can actually see the difference out our way. It used to be a shithole. Now there's the community garden and everyone is mowing their lawns and planting fruit trees."

The carpentry course members of the Rippon family graduated from is a Māori and Pasifika Trade Training initiative. Called He ringa mahi kai, He ringa tū it offers free study for people aged 16 to 40.

A combined effort by Te Puna Mātauranga o Whanganui, Whanganui District Council, the Pasifika Vision Forum Trust and UCOL made the bid for Government funding.

Its patron John Maihi, the chair of Te Puna Mātauranga o Whanganui, said students would have to show commitment. He expects careers, leadership, management and entrepreneurial ability to flow from it.

Whanganui co-ordinator Mel Te Patu said the aim was to remove every barrier to learning. The students get support in their lives and in their families.

They are picked up from their homes and taken to class every day, then delivered back at the end of the day.

"It's a bit hard to hide when I'm beeping in the driveway."

It helps that tutor Mark Audain knew all the students personally, and came from the same background. And the group has shared lunches regularly. When the relative of one student died, the whole group went to Tokoroa for the tangi.

"We took them all up for the day."

Other He ringa mahi kai, He ringa tū students are doing courses in apiculture, baking, front of house, farm skills and carpentry. Ms Te Patu is looking for more to take advantage of the fees-free learning.

Contact her on 022 068 8937 or by emailing M.TePatu@ucol.ac.nz.