Relationship stresses, mental health issues and housing affordability are all top of the Alpine Community Development Trust’s concerns and outgoing Trust chair Margaret West certainly cares.
Margaret joined the ACDT Board - which has governance oversight for Community Networks Wanaka (CNW) and LINK Upper Clutha - in 2012 because she wanted to contribute to the local community and learn more about it.
Describing herself as a doer and a bit of a joiner, Margaret says, “I like to get involved and push boundaries”. This stems partly from her father’s influence. He was a Presbyterian Minister who sadly died when Margaret and her two brothers were very young. Growing up in sleepy Oamaru (pre-Steampunk!), her Scottish maiden aunt ran the household while her mother worked as a teacher.
“You had an innate sense of duty. Volunteer? Why wouldn’t you?” she says.
Often people don’t really understand why Wanaka needs voluntary support services.
‘What do you mean a food bank? This is Wanaka’ is a common refrain. But 186 people needed and received food parcels throughout 2018, on top of the 75 food bank hampers distributed at Christmas.
“There is a lack of recognition that communities, no matter how affluent they might seem, always have underlying social stresses. All you have to do is talk to the Community Constable about abuse in homes. Family violence doesn’t take into account a person’s wealth.”
As Wanaka expands, services are in ever-increasing demand. Last year more than 3000 people visited CNW and over 2000 phoned to get information or seek help. With a population base of around 10,000 that’s a lot of people reaching out for support.
Scratch beneath the statistics and the impact of CNW on individual lives is clear - a few examples include:
An elderly couple needing physical help to pack their possessions to move to a rest home.
A single father who couldn’t afford to buy a school uniform for his child.
A mother with three young kids who needed to have surgery in Dunedin but didn’t have anyone to help look after her children.
A seasonal worker living in a caravan who needed a solar panel to get through the winter safely.
Paying tribute to Margaret and to ACDT, Kathy Dedo LINK Facilitator observes, “Small things can make such a big difference to people’s lives.”
In her years as ACDT chair Margaret has been delighted to discover “the amazing volunteers who walk through the door and keep CNW going. Sometimes with huge bags of walnuts or quinces but more often to offer money, time or expertise. Wanaka is such a generous and warm-hearted community.”
CNW manager Kate Murray is also deeply grateful to the 50 volunteers who regularly deliver Meals on Wheels, offer Justice of the Peace services, drive the Wheels to Dunstan hospital transport and help out in the CNW social well-being hub on Brownston Street.
“Without these unsung heroes of Wanaka we wouldn’t be able to offer the essential services that we do,” Kate says.
Kate is also quick to point out that Margaret and the other Trustees of ACDT are hugely committed volunteers themselves. Generously giving their time, energy and wisdom to govern the Trust.
Margaret is pleased to be leaving ACDT in such a healthy and vibrant state.
“Such exciting times lie ahead with the new Community House on the horizon and with Wanaka continuing its extraordinary growth journey.”
Warming to the recent A&P Show slogan, ‘Call me a Local’, Margaret says, “Being local is about what people do here and how they appreciate their neighbourhood”.
True to her word, Margaret is active at the Wanaka Rotary Club, tennis club, U3A and several local historic trusts. Margaret is also thrilled about the imminent arrival of two great-grandchildren, adding to her three grandchildren, a son, daughter and husband John already in the family mix.
At the age of 17, Margaret jumped on a train from Oamaru to Auckland and joined the Navy, much to her mother’s horror. “I had to rebel in something!” she says, laughing. She became closely connected with Maori culture in the 1970s, lived on a military camp, added an MBA to her CV, pioneered polytechnic education courses for women-returners in Dunedin and met Queen Elizabeth (forgetting to curtsey!). Despite all of that Margaret mulls that she would advise her teenage self “to be more adventurous”.
Watch this space to see what Margaret-the-Adventurer does next for Wanaka and how ACDT builds on her solid legacy.