The Bishop’s Action Foundation wanted to better understand the needs and opportunities of rural communities as a catalyst to explore ways to contribute to more sustainable rural communities. A close working relationship with the University of Otago enabled us to seek help from the University’s researchers through the Centre for Sustainability in 2014. This initial discussion led to us connecting with Ann Pomeroy, a researcher and changemaker who had been involved in rural research for most of her career, and the development of a stream of work that continues to add valuable knowledge today.
With the support of the Centre for Sustainability’s then director Professor Janet Stephenson, we developed a scoping action plan to undertake the following:
The ultimate goal of this work was, and is, to build a research base from which support could be generated with appropriate partners to create a research institute focused on rural well-being.
The first step from the collaboration between the Bishop’s Action Foundation and The Centre for Sustainability was a series of research reports, initially supported by funding from TSB Community Trust (now TOI Foundation), that were based on Statistics NZ 2013 Population and Dwelling Census area unit data.
Report One (December 2016) looked at minor urban centres, rural centres, and rural districts (open countryside outside the centres) for the three Territorial Local Authorities in Taranaki: New Plymouth, Stratford and South Taranaki. Data analysed for these three settlement types included:
Report Two (May 2017) took the findings from the first report and compared key data sets from those TLAs with another seven TLAs: Southland, Gore, Waimakariri, Hurunui, South Wairarapa, Central Hawke’s Bay and Waitomo. Some of these were growing, some declining and some static.
Report Three (February 2018) was a summary of a rural social research seminar held in conjunction with the New Zealand Geographical Society, and Massey University’s School of People, Environment and Planning. Research providers and research users shared their perspectives, while a plenary session identified research issues that had emerged from discussion, along with some solutions.
Report Four (December 2019) extended the census analysis of Report Two to an additional ten TLAs. These were Kaipara, Thames-Coromandel, South Waikato, Wairoa, Rangitikei, Buller, Grey, Westland, Central Otago and Clutha. With the support of funding from the National Science Challenge “building better homes, towns and cities” data from all 20 TLAs could be analysed. The resulting picture of sub-regional New Zealand showed that the experiences of people living in the three different rural settlement types was very different to the image commentators had projected for regional New Zealand. It was also clear that there was wide variation between and within the three rural settlement types.
Report Five (still in production) is a summary and overview of social science literature on rural New Zealand from before European colonisation to the present, predominantly from the perspective of historians, geographers, and sociologists, and to a lesser extent political scientists, anthropologists and economists.
All this research effort is now being written up in peer-reviewed academic journals. For example:
It is hoped that the research will rekindle interest in rural New Zealand and prompt a more expansive and encompassing policy which addresses the needs of all rural people, rather than predominantly supporting the life chances, material possessions and access to services of those in urban areas who are often already well-supported.