High-techology hub will connect Otangarei to the world
A low socio-economic community in Northland is using ultra-fast broadband rollout as a springboard to engage locals in meaningful projects from its marae.
The Te Kotahitanga Marae in the Whangarei suburb of Otangarei will become Northland's first "wired marae" in May after the opening of its information and communications technology (ICT) hub, boasting 12 computers to allow residents to apply for jobs, Skype family overseas, do homework, practise driving tests or renew driver licences online, and make medical appointments.
Organisers hope to engage those aged 3 and over to upskill themselves after the suburb's struggles over the years with families becoming disconnected, workers moving away, and an increase in gang violence and substance abuse.
Whangarei is the first city in New Zealand to connect to ultra-fast broadband and fibre connectivity will be available to more than 19,000 homes and businesses by the end of May.
The UFB rollout started in late 2010 and has a 150GB data cap - meaning users don't have to worry about usage levels.
Northpower said the number of homes and businesses that had already connected to UFB was "well over 1500".
Whangarei businesses have donated money and equipment towards the ICT hub at the marae, which was formerly a tearoom at the oil refinery at Marsden Pt.
Wahine Paewhenua, the brains behind the initiative, said the opening of the ICT hub was a critical part of a community development project to revitalise Otangarei and build healthy relationships.
She said the idea emerged in May last year when she asked members of a newly launched youth group for positive feedback and that computers and internet topped the list.
"While there wasn't much funding available, the children helped paint the room, and a number of local businesses provided computers, cabling for power and telecommunications, furniture, security and connection to the ultra-fast broadband network.
"Before there was nothing happening for the children and the youth. Now they just have so many projects," she said. A lot of children in the area, she said, didn't have access to internet at home and those involved in the project also wanted to roll out the programme to the senior citizens as a lot of them didn't have a telephone to keep in touch with their whanau and to make appointments.
Ms Paewhenua said training organisations were looking at running courses such as graphic design from the new hub.
Apart from the ICT hub, a 13-year-old had set up a bike shed, where children could go to pump tyres and to learn about safety while riding the two-wheelers.
Other teenagers had started a project to put murals on local walls, she said. "A lot of the youth have a real talent for artwork and graphics. The ICT hub will allow them to use internet for their design."
Piripi Moore, ICT hub project manager, said with a marae, shops, a community hall and a sportsground, the latest initiative had the potential to create a bit of a "get-together" for locals.
"Otangarei has a very transient and poor population and to run a project like this is a big ask, but this has the potential to upskill people with the many opportunities that are available."
It was great Northland was the first region to connect to UFB and by establishing the ICT hub, Otangarei wouldn't be left behind in the latest technology.