A Northland man who was locked in a mental hospital as a boy and told he was on a pathway to jail has been named New Zealand's Local Hero of the Year.

Ricky Houghton, the chief executive of He Korowai Trust in Kaitaia, received the honour in the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards in Auckland earlier tonight.

As the head of the trust since it was founded 17 years ago, he has strived to free people from adversity and give them love, hope and a pathway to a better future.

So far the trust has saved more than 550 Far North homes from mortgagee sales, keeping 6400 vulnerable people in their homes, and has provided justice and whanau development services for more than 800 families.

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A papakainga the trust has been developing in Kaitaia has so far given homes to 17 adults and 43 children, while the former Kaitaia Hotel has been converted into emergency housing.

The trust is also setting up a training scheme to help Kaitaia youth into employment.

The recognition Mr Houghton won last night is far removed from his rough start in life.

In a recent interview he spoke of how he had been locked in a mental institution from the ages of 8-13 and told he was a bad boy on a pathway to jail.

''All those years ago I promised myself that if ever I got a chance to make a difference, then that is how I wanted to spend my life. I wanted to show people that I was never going to be the person they always said I was going to be.''

Mr Houghton said he wanted to be remembered as someone who had always advocated for the downtrodden and less fortunate.

The title of New Zealander of the Year 2018 went to equal pay campaigner Kristine Bartlett. She received her award from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and a cloak from Kaitaia GP Lance O'Sullivan, who was New Zealander of the Year in 2014.

The other finalists for the New Zealander of the Year title were mental health advocate Mike King and microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles.