Kindness, ingenuity and sustainability were some of the factors that helped secure Te Whare Mahana Community Hub a finalist spot in the Keep New Zealand Beautiful Community Group Awards.
The group was nominated for this award by Horowhenua District Council's waste minimisation officer Robbie Stillwell.
According to Stillwell, Te Whare Mahana is a vibrant place where people can share or learn new skills and ideas as well as being a vital connector between support services and the local community.
The hub has a diverse range of activities, workshops, and several key community service organisations based at its site in Bristol St.
Te Whare Mahana is also home to one of Horowhenua's most successful waste-minimisation initiatives - the Repair Café.
A licensed international programme, with the objective to divert waste from landfills, develop repair skills, and strengthen social and community connections, a Repair Café is a regular event where people can bring their broken goods along for volunteers to fix.
The Levin branch of the Repair Café is a community-led initiative, being driven by a dedicated group of 18 volunteer repairers and spearheaded by Te Whare Mahana coordinator Victoria Gregory.
In 2020, while looking at sustainable project ideas to base in the hub, Gregory met a woman who had been a jeweller in a Repair Café in London.
After researching the concept both nationally and internationally, Gregory decided this was the perfect fit, especially as there were also free resources available to help set up the Repair Café.
Gregory created a working group with two other local women to brainstorm an action plan to make the Repair Café a reality.
Over a period of four months, they met with a number of community groups to find repairers who were prepared to commit to a regular monthly event.
On Saturday, November 7, 2020, the first Repair Café opened - 10 months and seven events later there have been over 180 attendees and at least 200 items successfully repaired.
The 18 volunteer repairers have a wide range of skills and experience, from electrical work provided by a certified electrician to repairing mechanical items and bikes; from sewing and knitting work, to furniture repairs and restoration; and from IT device expertise to general DIY.
Gregory was overwhelmed by Stillwell's nomination of the Repair Café for the Keep NZ Beautiful Community Group Awards.
"We've had a really good relationship with the council's waste minimisation team [from the beginning]," Gregory said. "They granted us start-up funding to help buy tools and cover operating costs [which means] people only have to pay what they can afford for repairs."
Stillwell feels personally invested in the Repair Café and often uses his time off to help out where he can.
"I've seen more people with more repairs turning up [each month] ... it's a really positive community initiative."
Chairwoman of Keep Horowhenua Beautiful, HDC councillor Victoria Kaye-Simmons, has been blown away by the buy-in of the community to the Repair Café.
"The hub is creating a community of kindness," Kaye-Simmons said. "A lot of the people who come here wouldn't necessarily meet up otherwise."
Kaye-Simmons believes the fact the volunteers are happy to share their experiences when repairing items means people are learning new skills as well.
The Repair Café isn't the only initiative Te Whare Mahana offers. The hub also hosts a free food pantry, a free book share shelf as well as operating an actual food and drink café for people waiting for their repairs to be completed.
At this stage Gregory and the team at Te Whare Mahana are unsure when they will find out whether they have beaten Eco Action Nursery Trust in Christchurch and Rotary Cambridge for first place in the 2021 Community Group Award.
Unfortunately, due to the current Covid situation, the grand ball to celebrate the finalists in all categories of the Keep NZ Beautiful awards, which was supposed to happen at the end of October, has had to be postponed.
Gregory has great plans for the Repair Café in 2022, no matter the results of the KNZB awards, with more of a focus on helping those who struggle financially as well as bringing children in to learn how to repair items.
"We'd love to set up bi-monthly workshops as well ... teach people how to mend clothing [and] other cost-saving skills," Gregory said.