In 2007 The Bishop’s Action Foundation (BAF) was asked to facilitate stakeholder engagement meetings in Eltham and surrounding communities to identify how organisations could work together in Central Taranaki to better support youth well-being. This process followed a tipping point moment when, in 2006, a member of the community was left paralysed after they challenged a group of young people damaging letter boxes.
The result of these meetings was an acceptance that ‘something’ had to be done, but that no agency felt it was in a position to take the leadership needed to create a new response to youth wellbeing in and around Eltham. At this point local changemakers Peter and Jan Barleyman from the Anglican Parish stepped up to this leadership challenge and asked BAF to support them and the local community on the journey.
Early on agreement was reached with other regional youth service providers who committed to sharing knowledge to support the project. Through research undertaken by Waves Youth Health Service in New Plymouth, leadership from Youth Transition Services and backing from Ngati Ruanui (which included access to a youth health nurse) a proposal was presented to the Eltham Community to create E-TOWN. A community meeting was held confirming the community’s backing for the E-TOWN concept as a response to the needs of young people in Eltham.
Following this meeting BAF supported the formation of the E-TOWN Management Committee and guided them on the next steps of their journey. Eight months later on 24th March 2010 E-TOWN opened its doors in the Anglican Parish hall, beginning with a once a week after school programme and then adding a Breakfast programme which was developed through Red Cross seed funding and Fonterra sponsorship and supported by the Eltham Primary School teachers and Stratford High School.
The E-TOWN story is on of dedication and commitment from Peter and Jan supported by a vast range of agencies and volunteers, and as for BAF, Peter commented:
“BAF has been there from the start. They’ve supported a professional edge when needed. They spent months helping E-TOWN nut out its procedures and policies, they’ve brokered service contracts and organized funding.”
BAF continued to support E-TOWN by providing strategic, financial and HR services allowing the E-TOWN management committee to focus on building a flourishing E-TOWN community with a growing service offering. Funding through the Department of Internal Affairs in 2011 enabled a Coordinator to be appointed and in 2014 governance of E-TOWN shifted to a Charitable Trust which BAF helped to establish by partnering with the local Mt View Residential Trust Board. Once the trust was in place BAF’s supporting role began to reduce until in 2020 the trust took over all aspects of the project including financial reporting and HR responsibilities.
The E-TOWN space is intentionally youth focused and youth-led and is available for use by agencies and services supporting the Eltham community. Partnerships have developed amongst local organisations and links with regional service providers continue to grow. And what do young people think? In the words of one volunteer:
“They’re voting for E-TOWN with their feet. Week after week, in big numbers, they keep coming back for more.”