Eltham residents feel they are being ignored by dairy giant Fonterra.

"We just want to be heard, to have our concerns answered and for our community to be consulted."

Phillippa Joblin and Bronwyn Muir facilitate a concerned Fonterra shareholder / supplier and Eltham community group set up after hearing the Fonterra Eltham Farm Source store is facing closure.

"People in the Eltham community are extremely unhappy with this proposed closure." says Phillippa.


Bronwyn agrees.

"As a company, Fonterra say they put a lot of emphasis on their values, and one of their stated values is 'doing what's right'. We feel they won't be doing that if they continue with their plan to close this store as well as the Stratford one in favour of having a Farm Source Hub located in the south of Stratford."

Scott Walls, Fonterra Head of Farm Source, Taranaki, says no final decision has been made yet.

"We are still working through the proposal to merge the Eltham and Stratford stores into a new, purpose-built and fit-for-purpose hub at a new location in South Stratford."

Phillippa says concerned shareholders and community members have attended a series of public meetings about the potential closure since they first became aware of the plan.

"They didn't go out of their way to tell us, we pushed to have a meeting about it. We invited representatives from Fonterra to come to that meeting, which they did, but we feel this doesn't constitute any form of proper consultation as it was led by us, not them."

Since the first meeting, a committee has been formed to continue the discussion, with representatives from South Taranaki District Council including the mayor, Ross Dunlop, Fonterra shareholders, members of the Eltham business community, farmers and residents from the area all attending meetings.

Olwyn Duthie, who with her husband Kevin, is a farmer and Fonterra shareholder, says she joined because she wants Eltham to have a voice.

"There is no question that there is a lot of support for the Eltham Farm Source to remain from the community it actually serves. The question though, is if Fonterra plans to listen to our objections or simply railroad on with their plans."

Scott says the closure is being considered as it isn't fit for purpose currently, like many stores in the region.

"Our national strategy is to make Farm Source a hub, with a comprehensive retail offering along with facilities for farmers and the community to use."

Mayor Dunlop says he is concerned such a well established business is potentially leaving the town, adding he has been working with council staff to see if there is anything they can do to help it stay.

Fonterra are a big employer in the town, says Ross, and it is a shame they are looking at closing the store.

"I do think they need to consider how this impacts their image here."

If the store does close, Ross says he hopes other Eltham businesses might look at farm supplies as a business opportunity. Scott says the proposed hub is actually an investment in the region.

"It's more than just a paint job and a name change."

Phillippa says people in the Eltham community understand the store is in need of maintenance, but don't believe it needs to be closed.

"We can't help but feel we are being given less voice in this because we have fewer shareholders than the Stratford store does. While both stores are facing closure, Stratford will still have a store in the form of the new hub. Those of us in Eltham will have to travel to Stratford if this plan goes ahead, so we are losing more, including land value."

Scott says changes are being made across Taranaki.

"We are proposing to demolish and rebuild our Waverley store in the same place it is now, merge Stratford and Eltham, Kaponga and Manaia, New Plymouth and Pungarehu stores into newly built ones, and refurbish our Waitara and Hawera stores."

The Eltham Farm Source isn't just a place farmers go to get supplies, says Phillippa.

"It is part of Eltham's history and deserves better than to just be left behind. It has won awards in the past and has always been something we are proud of in our community."
Bronwyn agrees, pointing out Eltham has always had strong connections with the dairy industry.

"New Zealand's very first dairy factory was set up by Chew Chong in Eltham back in 1887. Now, over 100 years later we have two Fonterra cheese factories in the town.

"It seems ironic that Fonterra, who place so much emphasis on community, now plan to move Farm Source out of the town."