The focus on honey production in the Whanganui region is paying dividends for an organisation that employs people with disabilities.

Wanganui Enterprises, a charitable trust formed in 1979, provides training and employment in its London St factory, producing wood and metal products that are sold around New Zealand.

General manager Andy Lynn said a need to diversify and play to its strengths saw the organisation move into manufacturing beehive ware last year.

"We do really well at 'repeatable activities' with wood, steel and light engineering work and the bee industry made sense," Lynn said.

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"We're good at cut wood, assembling stuff and sheet metal work so we looked at what the market needed locally. Last year was our first year in bee gear. It was quieter than we would have liked but we did enough to put on another six jobs."

Wanganui Enterprises general manager Andy Lynn wants to train his staff and move them on to open employment.
Wanganui Enterprises general manager Andy Lynn wants to train his staff and move them on to open employment.

Wanganui Enterprises now produces beehive boxes and bases, nuc boxes and hive and nuc lids and mats, mainly for local customers.

The organisation's dog kennels and runs have been the cornerstone of its business since it started operating in Purnell House in 1981 as part of a sheltered workshop. In 1995 it moved to its current location in the former Hamilton's Pies factory in London St.

Wanganui Enterprises has more than 40 paid workers, ranging in age from under-17 to 65-plus, and Lynn says the organisation's approach has changed considerably.

"The workers contribute to our revenue and we contribute to them in terms of what happens next. We're now aiming at the 18-30 years category where they have barriers to work, either through physical disability or mental health.

"The issue in Whanganui is that it's hard to get a job and if you don't have skills it's impossible to get a job. We have a big focus on training and the skills we can build into people. Coming here is no longer a job for life - we want you to get into open employment."

Last year four or five people moved from Wanganui Enterprises into open employment which Lynn said was "a real sign of success for us".

"The key thing in the disability sector or for people with barriers is that having a job changes things in their lives. They gain financial independence, socialisation, their mental and physical health improves and they become more independent.

"We have the same labour and health and safety laws as any other business in New Zealand and we have to make money."

They sell products from their Fivestar brand throughout New Zealand and particularly around the North Island. The range includes furniture, raised gardens, handmade and hand nailed trellis, shipping crates, coffins, trailers, gates, covers for air conditioning vents and gas bottles and bespoke items.

Last year the organisation started its first woodworking apprenticeship in furniture making and the welders are completing their New Zealand qualifications.

The organisation is also running motivation and work preparation courses through the Ministry of Social Development.

"We have a vested interest in growing and developing people so they can go on, unlike most manufacturers whose focus is on productivity," Lynn said.

Aaron Johnson works with the wood offcuts, breaking them down into kindling.
Aaron Johnson works with the wood offcuts, breaking them down into kindling.
Everything from furniture to a coffin is on display in the showroom.
Everything from furniture to a coffin is on display in the showroom.
Dog kennels and runs are the cornerstone of the business.
Dog kennels and runs are the cornerstone of the business.
Wanganui Enterprises has started its first woodworking apprenticeship.
Wanganui Enterprises has started its first woodworking apprenticeship.