A new initiative is breathing new life into Taranaki's rural halls.
Rural Razzle has been set up to help support rural hall committees at a time when rural communities are facing many challenges. The organisation wants to support and inspire community gatherings in halls across Taranaki with events ranging from pot luck dinners, quiz nights, fitness classes, interhall challenges and cabarets.
Rural Razzle is supported by Sport Taranaki, Fonterra Farm Source, Dairy NZ, Taranaki Young Farmers, Taranaki Rural Support Trust and the Dairy Women's Network.
Sport Taranaki project advisor Janet Fleming — who has been one of the key drivers of the programme — says Rural Razzle is an umbrella organisation which brings together information and ways to link up hall committees.
Rural Razzle now has 91 contact people for Taranaki halls on its database and sends out a newsletter to keep people informed as well as offering challenges and information on how to run successful events.
More than 50 farmers gathered at Midhirst Hall recently for a farming brunch, one of eight brunches organised by the Taranaki Rural Support Trust. Farmers tucked into bacon, eggs, meat patties and hash browns, which summed up the idea of Rural Razzle, says Rural Support Trust coordinator Marcia Paurini.
The meal was an important time for farmers to catch up and share tips and information and help them feel less isolated at a busy time of the year.
"It's really important they know they are not alone."
Westpac contributed a barbecue and the food was donated by rural businesses.
Janet says the aim of Rural Razzle is to build healthier, stronger communities and boost the physical, mental and social well-being of farmers and those living rurally. It was established to help address challenges faced by rural people including isolation, variable phone and internet coverage and long distances to travel to larger centres.
With sharemilkers moving in and out of the area, there was often a transient population.
" Larger farms meant fewer people and very often the same key people in the community found themselves getting overloaded.
"It was therefore in the best interests of the physical, mental and social well-being of farmers and those living in rural communities to be active, stay connected, and get to know their neighbours better."
Janet — who farms on an organic dairy farm at Pihama — says that the idea started off with a few events during the coastal drought last year, including several golf days.
They soon realised, however, that halls were the true hub of the community and support was needed to strengthen them as many committees were feeling tired, stressed and financially burdened.
"In a lot of cases the administration and maintenance of the halls was left with a few members of the community, many who had held these roles for decades."
Janet says Rural Razzle is encouraging rural halls to look at all the assets that exist in their communities to help use these strengths to benefit the halls.
"Rural Razzle is aware rural communities are already very good at using each other's skills and networks but we see our role as a way to introduce new potential partners or agencies with additional resources that might be able to help also.
"For Rural Razzle it's about supporting all the great work that happens in rural areas so that events and projects are sustainable and owned by the community," she said.
For more information checkout the Rural Razzle Facebook page.