By RNZ

Controlling, fearful, and oppressive - that's how people who've left the community of Gloriavale described their lives there.

This comes as a new trust is established - the Gloriavale Leavers' Support Trust - which aims to help those who decide to leave with everything from housing, clothes, furniture and even help set up their own bank account.

More than 200 people attended the trust's launch last night.

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Describing itself as a Christian community, those who've turned their backs on Gloriavale say it's anything but.

Among those who've left is Lois. She walked out two years ago with her husband Caleb, her child, and her unborn baby - she was 32 weeks pregnant.

"We decided to leave at night time ... we kept it a secret because we didn't want to make a big fuss and we didn't want people to talk us out of it," she said.

Leaving meant freedom for Lois - the freedom to choose what to do, the freedom to choose how to act and what to wear.

But that freedom took some time to get used to.

"I've been out here for two years and I still have trouble making decisions ... even this morning I got up and for half an hour I couldn't decide what to wear."

More than 200 people attended the launch of the Gloriavale Leavers' Support Trust. Photo / RNZ
More than 200 people attended the launch of the Gloriavale Leavers' Support Trust. Photo / RNZ

All leavers who spoke at the event said life in Gloriavale could be tough, especially if they strayed outside the rules. Like walking barefoot. Or not having their top button done up. Or having any secret contact with the outside world.

Those rules were enforced by Gloriavale's leaders, called the "servants and shepherds".

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Elijah said some in the community instead called them the SS - in reference to Nazi Germany.

"It's just because of how much fear you would have going to an SS meeting.

"There are 16 of them ... and when you go to a meeting you sit in a circle ... it's just a really scary place," he said.

Isaac, who is a father of ten, said any contact with the outside world was heavily censored.

"They get newspapers in once a week ... for starting a fire ... but someone goes through those and chops out anything about Gloriavale in the news."

He said the pressure to stay at the commune was immense.

"You are told all of your life that the minute you walk out those gates, you are going to hell [and] your children are going to hell," he said.

He said choosing to leave was also choosing to leave your friends and extended family behind.

All leavers who spoke at the event said life in Gloriavale could be tough, especially if they strayed outside the rules. Photo / Kurt Bayer
All leavers who spoke at the event said life in Gloriavale could be tough, especially if they strayed outside the rules. Photo / Kurt Bayer

And that was where the Gloriavale Leavers' Support Trust aimed to help.

General manager Liz Gregory told the crowd the aim was to help leavers with practical things like clothes, furniture, vehicles, bonds for homes, groceries.

It would also build a website that they hoped people who were still living inside Gloriavale could see.

Gloriavale has not responded to Checkpoint's interview request.

Watch the Checkpoint video of the launch below

-RNZ