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Te Hā o Mātauranga, the Breath of Knowledge, opened in Kaikōura in March this year. The strap line for the organisation is Learning in Kaikōura.

The NGO operates from two venues, the Old Museum in Kaikōura and the Kaikōura District Council’s scout hall.

The goal is to create a culture of learning in Kaikōura.

The vision is that through having a culture of learning in the district, all Kaikōura families are confident and optimistic and have the skills and ability to make choices to live the life they want. And their dream, as their website says, is to create a ‘go to’ place for Kaikōura residents who want to learn: A place that will promote opportunities, promote conversation around education and allow space for families to explore together how best to support their aspirations.

After only eight months the organisation has already established partnerships, is well integrated into local education networks, and has organised a number of initiatives. A plan for the next steps is being completed.

Getting started

Sarah Beardmore is the person who helped get Te Hā off the ground. Once a probation officer, Sarah was frequently frustrated because of the lack of training opportunities in the town: She often wanted to refer clients who were keen to upskill themselves and make changes in their lives – but there was little available.

So when the Kaikōura District Council established a Community Facilitator position in 2015 she applied and was successful.

In 2014 there was a Community Response Forum in Kaikōura, organised by the Ministry for Social Development. The forum produced a Results Based Assessment Action Plan for the community. The planned outcomes included children and young people thriving and engaged – and a healthy, connected, vibrant and prosperous community.

“It was a good process,” says Sarah, “but pretty much top down and nothing much happened as a result. So when I started the community facilitator role I began networking and listening to what people in the community had to say. The main thing that they wanted was more learning opportunities – and they wanted a community hub, a space where things could happen. Some good things were happening in the community, but there was not a connected, whole community approach.”

The Kaikōura Education Trust had been established in 2008. It hadn’t been very active, but it was the ideal organisation under which Te Hā could apply for funding.

First up they applied to the JR McKenzie Trust which agreed to provide a three-month scoping grant.

It was on the day of the Kaikōura earthquake, November 14 2016 that Sarah was due to fly to Wellington and present the JR McKenzie Trust with the results of the scoping exercise and a plan. Because of that enforced delay it wasn’t until mid-January this year that the decision was made: Te Hā received funding for three years under the JR McKenzie Trust’s Connecting Education and Communities programme. The money pays for Sarah and a part time administrator.

In the meantime Te Hā has been able to access grants from the Lotteries Earthquake fund, and Creative Communities and has contracted with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to provide a participatory science programme with Kaikōura youth. Another contract with Oranga Tamariki provides some funding to support whānau of 0-5’s with positive parenting support in post-quake Kaikōura.

Partnerships, programmes and plans

“Our aim,” says Sarah, “is to be an enabler, a broker, an encourager – not to provide the education itself because we don’t have the capacity to do that. We want to work with the wider education community to create a culture of learning.

“Our first partnership to be established was with He Toki, the Ngai Tahu Trades Training support organisation. They came up here and ran a three week Work Ready course providing training for 14 people, preparing them for road reconstruction work. Subjects included first aid and Construct Safe, and together we helped them get their driver licenses. The tutors have provided follow-up support and they are coming back to work with us again. We see it as an ongoing partnership.

“We have also worked with the Ara Institute of Canterbury which is providing a level 3 Business Administration Certificate. We had quite a lot of enrolments to start with but some of the young mums underestimated the time that study would take, and we have ended up with nine on the programme. Understanding the time needed to study is a bit of a learning curve for some people. We are planning to offer more programmes. I have had three appointments with staff from Ara to discuss possibilities, but each time we have been unable to meet because of road closures.”

Other small initiatives include: having a retired teacher organise a special reading afternoon at the library and organising group bookings, transport and support for people wanting to sit the driver licence test in Rangiora (three hours away).

It’s all about responding to immediate needs, getting people to come together and building up good relationships with all the agencies that could be involved in developing a learning culture.

For example there are four schools in Kaikōura and Sarah, for many years a member of one of the Boards of Trustees and involved with the establishment of the local community of learning, has recently met with the community’s lead principal. It’s the start of conversations with the school sector about building a culture of learning. “We want everyone to value learning,” says Sarah, “so we want learning brought into our homes, we want whole families to be thinking about learning opportunities, we want our mentors to be mentoring better, and we want people moving into positions where they can teach others. The next thing we are working on is a time bank. We already have the software, and now we are working out how to do the registration and we are looking for some funding.”

One gap that is crying out to be filled is in the provision of adult literacy and numeracy training. With all the post-earthquake reconstruction there are many new jobs being created in the town, including clerical positions.

“With the earthquake, people are geared up for change,” says Sarah, “and we need to find ways of accessing some funding for literacy and numeracy, so that people can take advantage of the new opportunities.”

Susi Haberstock, once the ACE coordinator at Kaikoura High School is now the Community Services Manager at the Kaikōura District Council. She says that while the council isn’t able to financially support Te Hā, they are providing practical support, not only through making premises available rent free, but also in taking responsibility for managing the HR work: The council pays the Te Hā staff and contributes to their Kiwi Saver accounts. Susi is also supporting Sarah in their search for funding to support adult literacy and numeracy training.

With such a huge goal there needs to be a systematic approach. When we spoke with Sarah in early October she was in the process of refining their original plan and getting clear on the next steps. Te Hā has a Theory of Change which is guiding the process (see below).

“I like our theory of change,” says Sarah, “because it helps you break down your work into lots of small steps. To create a culture of learning you have to have a multi-pronged approach, not a linear pathway, and our theory of change helps us plan for that.”