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To the casual observer, there is nothing unusual about the freshly-mown parks and school grounds around Randwick Park in South Auckland.
What is unusual is how some of those lawns got mowed and how much it means to many in the local community.
Citycare Property has the contract to maintain and manage all community-owned buildings and parks in South Auckland, as well as a range of other landscape, facilities management and water contracts across New Zealand. And in the Randwick Park suburb of South Auckland, social enterprise Stepping Stones Lawns mows a number of the parks as a subcontractor to Citycare.
Stepping Stones’ focus is on providing employment opportunities for local people, creating small “stepping stones” into employment, breaking the poverty cycle and generating hope for the future.
That means a win-win situation for Citycare and for the local community.
“This type of arrangement talks to the ambition of a new scheme that Citycare and social entrepreneur Sam Johnson have recently co-designed,” adds Nige Cottingham, Citycare Group EGM Strategy.
“The Community Guardians scheme intends to link thousands of local community members nationwide to a safe operational delivery model through Citycare and to ensure that local community projects are not just delivered, but sustained for years to come."
Sam Johnson explains: “There are already a huge number of people doing great work in the community – we’ve simply realised there’s a gap we can help to fill, in terms of bringing the aspirations of community groups and local government together and of supporting community leaders or guardians to ensure that the projects have longevity beyond that initial day of action.
“Our aim is simply to enable and facilitate the safe delivery of more local community action projects nationwide and to better support the many true guardians of our community.”
Stepping Stones’ Dave Tims says that the partnership means local people involved take a real interest in the places where they work. He tells the story of a Stepping Stones worker who found some illegal dumping at one of the local parks, used his initiative to help track down the person who’d dumped it, and knocked on their door to ask them to do something about it. A creative solution was found when a community trailer was organised for the dumper to remove their rubbish to a more appropriate place.
“It’s our neighbourhood and our park,” says Dave.
In another instance he says a local woman was seen picking up rubbish in one of the parks, without being asked.
“That’s the kind of transformation that happens with this sort of project. People start to take a real interest and take ownership when you give a neighbourhood some respect.”
The partnership with Stepping Stones creates a potential employment pahway for Dave’s people to find permanent work in open space maintenance. Dave works hard to instil a strong work ethic and get his people work ready.
Citycare’s workforce diversity and community involvement were two of the factors taken into account when the South Auckland contract was awarded to the company by Auckland Council.
“Citycare has been great in terms of support and understanding,” says Dave Tims. “We can ring anytime and they will pop over and provide mechanical or technical support.
“They are the experts and we appreciate the opportunity to be part of this partnership.
“Auckland Council and the Manurewa Local Board are also supportive of community-led initiatives that benefit the wider community,” says Dave.
Stepping Stones has contracts to mow five local parks for Citycare and there is a shared appetite to grow this remit. They do mowing, spraying, rubbish collection and clean the public toilets. They also have other contracts with local schools and kindergartens.
Stepping Stones started out by applying for grants for their first mower. Their steady success means they’ve recently purchased a top-of-the-range machine for around $40,000.
“People love the idea of social enterprise where profits go back to the neighbourhood and locals are employed,” says Dave.
Citycare Group CEO, Onno Mulder, says the magic of Community Guardians lies in the nationwide shift towards more active engagement with local communities.
“Instead of traditional sponsorships where corporates hand out cash, this is an entirely new concept. It’s all about facilitating true community partnerships.
“Our vision is Better people. Better places. Better communities. And this scheme sits right in the sweet spot of delivering that vision. Our customers and partners are also able to use this model locally, regionally or nationally to work alongside their respective communities, so it’s a win-win all round."
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