NZ's longest-running charity turns 125 today. Brittany Keogh finds out more about its work and how there is still a need for it.

Michael Perry pores over a photograph of his great-grandfather, searching for a family resemblance.

"I can't see physical similarities," he says.

"But then I realise in actual fact we inherit mental sensibilities. I think he was a man concerned about the underdog and I think I have the same feelings."

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The man in the photograph, which hangs in the foyer of the Mt Eden villa that has housed New Zealand's longest-running charity, Home and Family Counselling, since 1988, is Henry Wilding.

An English immigrant, Wilding co-founded the organisation, then known as the New Zealand Society for the Protection of Women and Children, exactly 125 years ago.

On April 14 1893, he and other concerned citizens met to discuss the plight of women and children who had been mistreated by their husbands and fathers.

The purpose of the charity they set up was to advocate for women and children by lobbying for law changes that would better protect them and provide abused women with advice and practical help.

Its members also prosecuted cases of "cruelty, seduction, outrage or excessive violence" to women and children, took fathers who refused to take financial responsibility for their children to court and found homes for kids whose parents were deemed unfit to care for them.

Wilding was appointed chairman - a position he held until his death 22 years later.

For more than a century, four generations of the Wilding family have worked for or volunteered at Home and Family Counselling - something Perry, who was on the trust board from 2004 to 2016 - takes immense pride in.

"[We're] responsible for the good of the greater community over the wants of the individual. The wants of the individual had to be assessed over the benefits of the greater community," he says.

Michael Perry with a photo of his great-grandfather Henry Wilding - founder of the Home and Family Counselling, New Zealand's oldest charity. Photo / Michael Craig
Michael Perry with a photo of his great-grandfather Henry Wilding - founder of the Home and Family Counselling, New Zealand's oldest charity. Photo / Michael Craig

Wanting to make positive change is what drives everything the society and its staff does, says executive director Shelley Anderson.

She believes it is both an incredible accomplishment and a tragedy that Home and Family Counselling still exists.

"It's pretty impressive when you think you haven't even lived half of that lifetime. I think it's amazing."

But the fact its services are still in demand shows despite progress in relation to women's and children's rights, more work needs to be done.

Life in Auckland has radically changed since the charity's inception.

During the early 1890s the city's population was about 165,000. Men were the only wage earners in most homes. Without the safety net of social welfare women who were abandoned by their husbands and children who were orphaned or declared illegitimate were often destitute.

In September 1893, less than six months after the New Zealand Society of Women and Children was formed, women got the vote. About the same time women started working as paid social workers.

Two years later, due to pressure from the Society and other non-profit groups, the legal age of consent was raised from 14 to 15, and a year after that to 16.

At the turn of the century, after about a decade of campaigning, the society celebrated another law change it had been at the helm of - the criminalisation of incest.

Recognising changes to family structures post-World War II as more women entered the workforce the Society for the Protection of Women and Children changed its name to the New Zealand Society for Protection of Home and Family in 1955 and allowed men to access its services for the first time.

The introduction of the contraceptive pill during the 1960s gave Kiwi women more freedom over their reproductive health.

During the 1970s and 1980s the structure of families started to change - single parent families became more prevalent and more socially acceptable.

However, the need for Home and Family Counselling's services remained.

Since the late 1980s the charity's core service has been providing individuals, couples and families with face-to-face counselling.

However, it also runs programmes for youth, elderly people and women focused on preventing domestic violence, helping victims of abuse to recover their self-confidence and encouraging the vulnerable build connections with others who have had similar experiences.

Now with offices in Northcote and the Hibiscus Coast as well as Mt Eden, the organisation is committed to ensuring its services remain accessible.

It doesn't charge clients a "fee" for counselling, instead asking for a voluntary contribution clients can afford.

Last year alone, more than 2000 people sought help from the service.

"We've got a lot of social issues," says Anderson.

Michael Perry, great-grandson of the Home and Family Counselling founder Henry Wilding and the charity's current executive director Shelley Anderson. Photo / Michael Craig
Michael Perry, great-grandson of the Home and Family Counselling founder Henry Wilding and the charity's current executive director Shelley Anderson. Photo / Michael Craig

"People who are coming in to see us, they've got multiple stresses, it's not generally just the one thing."

Although the services Home and Family Counselling provides have changed throughout the years, its values of social justice and empowering people have remained.

"Advocacy's got to be part of what we do on behalf of people who can't speak up for themselves," says Anderson.

"I think counselling has a huge role to play [in that]. If people don't feel confident, if people don't feel good about who they are, if people are not in safe environments, they're not participating fully in community life. They're just not.

"People are not going to want to go into a training provider and upskill, people are not going to feel confident to go and apply for jobs if they're not feeling good about themselves.

"People in unhealthy environments, or unsafe environments, children aren't thriving in those environments."

Poor housing has been one of the most prevalent issues in Auckland throughout the last 125 years and Home and Family Counselling's staff have often witnessed its effects.

"Housing's a big issue and those external kinds of pressures play out into relationships - that's probably not rocket science," says Anderson.

Raewyn Dalziel, an emeritus professor of history at the University Auckland who wrote a book about Home and Family Counselling for its centennial celebration, said by the 1880s a lot of the housing built in Auckland during the 1860s had become slums.

"[There were] a number of families living in one house, families living in one room, men who moved to find jobs and deserted their wives."

The charity's annual report from 1947 stated poor housing had a particular impact on the elderly. The 1975 annual report also noted a "shortage of housing" as contributing to rising demand for the charity's services.

In 2018, Anderson says, financial stress relating to a lack of affordable housing is putting immense pressure on Aucklanders.

"You start to get a cluster of external stresses, then cracks start to show because people can only cope with so much.

"We see overcrowding, look at our homelessness problem - these are all indicative to housing that's not affordable for a lot of people."

The organisation has also been directly affected by rising rents.

As operating costs increased during the early 1980s, Home and Family Counselling went through a period of serious financial difficulties that led to it cutting paid staff and having to move premise to two small offices at the Methodist Central Mission. Two counsellors worked part-time for low salaries.

Recognising the need to take drastic action or risk closure, director Pat Gilbered, chairwoman Marian Owen and financial manager Peter Vincent worked together to balance the books and in 1988 it was able to buy its Mt Eden building outright.

Although the organisation is once again thriving and can afford to employ more than a dozen staff, worrying about how to generate enough funds to keep its doors open year after year is still something that keeps Anderson awake at night.

"Not unlike a lot of not-for-profits we get some government funding but not all of it, we've got to find most of it ourselves," she says.

"That is an ongoing challenge because when you're setting your budget ahead [of time] you're kind of factoring that we'll get it but you never know."

Home and Family Counselling's annual operating costs are a little more than $1 million a year. The government contributes about 30 per cent and the charity raises the rest through events, trusts and donations from people in the community.

"It's not a particularly sexy organisation for people to support," Anderson says.

Needing counselling still has some stigma attached - something that Anderson would like to see change in the future.

The work she and her staff do is often invisible to the general public.

"It happens behind closed doors. There's privacy and confidentiality around it."

Yet despite the hard work of Home and Family Counselling's staff sometimes slipping under the radar in an age of social media and constant distraction, Anderson and her team remain committed to meeting the needs of their community.

One way they're doing this is by partnering with another charity in south Auckland to provide "wrap-around" services for Aucklanders who need counselling.

Home and Counselling is currently upgrading its IT systems to use data to take a closer look at who is using its services and why.

The Wilding family are also dedicated to keeping their ancestor's vision for the charity alive.

"This society will always have work to do," says Perry.

"There will always be people who need counselling and support. Having got to 125 years of course, the organisation itself will have a huge desire to continue for longer.

"The longer you operate the more desire to keep the heritage going. While we see a community need or a social need we will continue to provide for that need."

Through the years - A timeline of Home and Family Counsellling's achievements

1893 - The New Zealand Society for the Protection of Women and Children (SPWC) is incorporated on April 14.
1895 - The charity successfully lobbies for the age of consent to be raised from 14 to 15.
1900 - The criminalisation of incest passed into law after lobbying from (SPWC)
1906 - The Government establishes a specialised children's court after campaigning by SPWC.
1941 - In June, New Zealand's first female police officers are sworn in. The SPWC and National Women's Council had been advocating for women to be included the force for about a decade.
1955 - The charity expands its services and makes them available to men for the first time. This prompts a name change to the New Zealand Society for Protection of Home and Family.
1980 - Telephone counselling service is launched in July.
1993 - Centennial celebration.
2018 - Home and Family Counselling turns 125.