As Grassroots As It Gets

As Grassroots As It Gets

It was a sunny day when I drove up the Cook Hospital Hill, and quite surreal to see the difference in the landscape from when I had worked as a shorthand typist at the Cook Hospital in the 1980s.

Here in Tairāwhiti, we have some of the most beautiful botanical gardens and arboretums in the country. I was stoked to be checking out one of the less known Tūranga gardens with Ray Gowland to learn more about this grassroots community project.

The gardens are in a 1.85 hectare Council reserve close to where the old Cook Hospital had overlooked the city. You can access the tranquil little valley from either Diana Avenue at the top of Hospital Hill or Valley Road, opposite The Farmyard, in Mangapapa.

It was interesting to note while I was digging around historical documents that the main hospital in the late 1800s had been in Aberdeen Road.  The new hospital was built on the hill because new premises were needed for the increasing numbers of sick people with “Gisborne fever” and epidemics of typhoid, diphtheria, and influenza.  Very relatable as we experience our own Covid-19 pandemic!

Volunteers have been helping Ray with the mahi – developing, improving, and extending the gardens ever since. In addition to thousands of volunteer hours, donations from the Turanga Lions Club, Williams Family Trust and Gisborne District Council have contributed to the project. The Council staff and contractors continue to provide support with plants and advice. 

At the moment, four volunteers meet every Friday morning for three hours of weeding, planting,  maintenance, some good banter and a cuppa. Two of them, Martin Cox and Graeme Miller, share similar stories as retirees wanting to give back to the land and the community. The camaraderie and putting the world right are top of their minds most days. 

Martin has been helping for eight years and Graeme, two. Martin asks anyone sitting at home, retired or at a loose end, not to be shy to lend a hand. He likes to meet and talk to people from different walks of life and have a bit of a laugh. While Graeme is a keen gardener, he also got involved to meet people and keep up his fitness, “It’s a big job with only the four of us.” 

Ray, Martin, Graeme and the other stalwart of support for the gardens, Gail Wadham, are doing awesome work.  They are achieving lots for Papatūānuku and for the nature she provides. Like many other voluntary projects, there is more work than they can handle. 

We highly recommend you take your whānau to check this lovely little corner of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa out. They are peaceful and easy walking with heaps of different tracks for the kids to explore.  Afternoons in the gardens are especially lovely with the golden sun filtering through the tall gums. 

If you’re interested in lending these guys a hand, or for any further information, you can contact Ray Gowland on or follow Turanga Gardens on Facebook. 

Story by Sandra Groves 

Hear4U Here For Us

Hear4U is a movement which brings friends, families, and strangers together to support each other in speaking up about men’s mental health and suicide here in the Tairāwhiti. 

July 2019 saw a loss that rocked our local forestry community. Krissy Mackintosh remembers her partner coming home early that day with the news that a fellow forestry family had lost their 21 year old son Toby to suicide; she recalls a community in shock. 

Krissy had recently discovered her love of making art from dried flora. At a friend’s request she gathered up all of the flowers that had been sent to the Fraser family following their son’s death, dried them, worked them into three heart-shaped wreaths and gave them back to Toby’s family.  

In that act of not giving up on those masses of flowers, and instead extending their ability to keep on giving and sharing their message of love and hope, Krissy found the seed for an idea, which was to become the Hear4U movement. 

Listening to the outpourings of shock and grief that followed, Krissy recognised herself in so many of the stories about Toby as ‘so outgoing, ‘the happy one’, loads of friends, the last person anyone thought this would happen to…’

Having been in that space multiple times herself, and having survived it; hearing the words, which would supposedly explain it all – the language of depression and anxiety – Krissy began to think more and more about the importance of destigmatising mental health and getting people talking about the stuff that she knew so intimately is a very normal part of life for many of us. 

Having lost ten of her own male friends to suicide Krissy decided that the best way to move forward was to “get guys out there, talking about this stuff”.  Thinking about the things that have lifted her own spirits at times throughout her own life, like art, exercise and music, she set about creating projects and events to bring people together to understand men’s mental health and suicide prevention better, through listening and learning from each other’s stories and experiences.

Jo Higgins-Ware and Renee Grant were an integral part of the establishment of Hear4U, which set about creating events to raise funds, and support established foundations, programmes, and charities that were already championing the cause. Connection, healing and education are at the heart of everything Hear4U does, and of course as the name of the movement suggests, the importance of letting people know you are always here to listen.

“Are you okay? Do you want to talk? Do you know how much I love you? Want to catch up? What’s up bro? You seem distracted.. You don’t seem yourself lately..”

The Hear4U team encourages us to keep asking the kinds of questions that let friends and family know that we are listening “Are you okay? Do you want to talk? Do you know how much I love you? Want to catch up? What’s up bro? You seem distracted.. You don’t seem yourself lately..”

The first event was the Hear4U Exhibition and Auction, in which men modelled dried floral wreaths and an auction raised over $53K for the Movember appeal. To date, this is the highest amount raised for a foundation in Australasia. The donation helped fund ‘Headstart’, an educational programme that teaches men from all walks of life the importance of understanding mental health, wellbeing, and suicide prevention throughout the country.

Since then a Hear4U Trailer built by Toby Fraser’s best mate Griffin Law, which went to Speedway events all around the country advocating for men to speak up on suicide prevention during Mental Health Awareness Week last year. The Good Blokes Xmas Appeal brought together photography and art with local builder Steven Huzzy modelling floral wreaths, another event which achieved some epic raising of funds as well as awareness.

Just recently 140 people ran the Taupo Marathon for Hear4U. Almost everyone in the team had lost someone to suicide. Many had lost multiple people, across generations, and most of them male.  

Krissy was recognised for her contribution to men’s health in the community at this year’s Eastland Forestry Awards, receiving ‘The Good Deed Award’.  It’s not an easy space to work in, but it’s clear from the richness of relationships that have formed amongst the Hear4U team, which continues to learn from each other, advocate for and work with over 100 men and their families, from all walks of life, that Hear4U is making a difference here in the Tairāwhiti.

The group are in the early stages of becoming a registered charity and developing a new website, which will allow them to continue raising awareness, sharing stories and promoting their events and projects as well as enable people to support the cause.  Krissy has also embarked on a book about Hear4U. 

If you want to know more or to join the movement, you can follow #Hear4U on Facebook or contact Krissy Mackintosh at


Sandra Groves recently stopped by the Tairawhiti Environment Centre to catch up with the Centre Manager Rena Kohere to learn about Te Rea, the Tairāwhiti Agroecology Recovery Programme, funded through The Ministry for the Environment and Department of Conservation’s Jobs for Nature.

The idea behind Jobs for Nature is to help revitalise communities through nature-based employment and stimulate the economy post-COVID-19 on both private and public conservation land. Here in the Tairāwhiti local kaimahi are restoring their whenua, waterways and protecting native species through Te Rea. 

The programme is a collaborative venture of whānau, hapu and iwi, the Department of Conservation, Ministry for the Environment and Tairāwhiti Environment Centre and is supported by a range of government agencies, working towards catchment restoration.

Te Rea came about after an eight-week pilot funded by the COVID-19 redeployment Provincial Development Fund, with two whanau groups working in Mangatu and Ruatorea. Since October Te Rea has grown to 8 whānau/hapu teams and 62 kaimahi (workers).

Talking to Rena, the focus is on supporting whānau to undertake kaitiakitanga on their whenua and encouraging an ongoing commitment to Taiao, the environment, in our rohe. 

Many of the kaimahi are already used to working on the land, having come from other fields like forestry or farming. With the support of various specialists, kaimahi are gaining new practical skills and qualifications and increasing their knowledge of other environmental areas through a mix of both theory and hands-on experience. 

While The Environment Centre is the hub for business development support for Te Rea, ensuring funding best practice and safety, whānau set their own work plan and focus, depending on whānau and hapu aspirations for their whenua. 

The team in Ruatorea for example have a strong background in fencing, and have added pest monitoring and control to their skillset. Te Wairoa at Te Araroa started by maintaining the Project Crimson plantings at Matahi Marae and protecting a pingao population that was at risk from stock and invasive weeds. The Uawa team came with the skills and passion for water monitoring and their taonga species, the tuna, and have shared these skills with the other teams through wananga.  

Kaimahi benefit from regular wananga with each other and local experts as well as formal training and qualifications through EIT. Skill sharing is crucial and the teams have learnt from Dr Wayne Ngata about matauranga Māori and Taiao, Tina Ngata on freshwater monitoring and have had Graeme Atkins, Joe Waikari and Trudi Ngawhare from the Department of Conservation sharing knowledge about their work in the region.

Ripeka Irwin, Team Lead for the Te Wairoa Team in Te Araroa, is a big advocate for Jobs For Nature. She says that joining the programme was a far cry from working as a subcontractor for the Council doing amenity maintenance. 

She has enjoyed the variety of work and focusing on ‘what needs help’, whether it is the land, river or sea. Her introduction to Taiao mahi, or environmental work, was at Matahi Marae on the East Cape, maintaining Project Crimson plantings, shelter windbreaks of native trees, pest control and monitoring. Right now, she is at the Peka Block Awatere building a native nursery and vegetable garden which will bring an abundance of food for the community and security of supply of native species for further restoration work. 

Ripeka says it was while in lockdown last year that she realised the value of these kinds of resources and since doing this mahi her biggest learning has been to slow down, to care about the environment and appreciate what is around her. Ripeka is hoping the Jobs For Nature funding will continue, as her dream is to carry on doing this mahi and involve even more people in the community. 

Te Rea reflects the region’s demographics, with many young people getting the opportunity to work for the environment and gain skills and knowledge at the same time. 95% of the 62 kaimahi are Māori, 37 were previously unemployed, and 17 are under the age of 25. 35 of the kaimahi are completely new to this kind of work but have quickly become some of the strongest advocates for the protection and restoration of our environment. 

Rena says this is one of the reasons Te Rea pushed to get funding throughout the coast. This work is important in a region such as ours, which is so dependent on primary industry and therefore our environment. In order to grow as a region and achieve our environmental restoration goals we also need to invest in growing our people as well. Te Rea has the potential to be transformational for mana whenua as well as our Taiao and we’re looking forward to seeing the impact this incredible initiative will have well into the future. 

The 8 teams are: 

Te Wairoa at Te Araroa

 Ruatorea with Hikurangi Enterprises

Taniwha Connections at Uawa

Whaia Titirangi at Titirangi Maunga with Ngati Oneone

Te Ao Tipu at Tarere Marae, Makauri

Maungarongo at Matawhero with Nga Uri o Te Kooti

Mangatu with Nga Ariki Kaiputahi 

Te Mahia with Rongomaiwahine Iwi Trust

Story by Sandra Groves

Images Supplied by Te Rea