Smelter gives community cash boost

Community group representatives (from left) Robin Eustace (St John), Kari Graber (Youthline), Kiri Tuhura (NZAS), Alan Milne (NZAS), Chris Menzies (Southland Charity Hospital), Janette Turner (Age Concern), Geoff Folster (Bluff School), Cathy Robertson (Women’s Refuge), Janice Lee (Koha Kai), Jane Harley (Loss & Grief Centre), and Andrea Carson (NZAS), gathered at the Bluff Marae on Friday for a reception to officially receive $473,000 Rio Tinto gifted to Southland community organisations as part of the company's global Covid-19 relief package. Absent from the photo: Dean Whaanga, Gail Thompson, Mali Morgan and Gina Ryan from Awarua Runanga.

IT was the best day of Rio Tinto specialist communities Andrea Carson’s 27-year career with the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter last week when she told several Southland organisations would be given funds.

The $473,000 gift package was part of the company’s global Covid-19 relief package.

Age Concern received $38,000, Southland Loss and Grief Centre $35,000, Awarua Runanga $50,000, St John Ambulance $30,000, Youthline $25,000 and Bluff School $5000. While Women’s Refuge received $100,000, Southland Charity Hospital $100,000 and Koha Kai $90,000 in the first round.

New Zealand’s Aluminium Smelter (NZAS) assets manager Allan Milne said parent company Rio Tinto recognised the symbiotic relationship the company had with its communities, choosing to share a relevant Maori proverb in his welcoming address to the group gathered at the Bluff Te Rau Aroha Marae on Friday.

‘He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.’ (What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people).

NZAS acting general manager John Takovic said the company acknowledged many had been affected by the pandemic, with it being especially tough on young people.

Youthline chairwoman Kari Graber said the unexpected funding allowed the 24/7 group to increase the number of counsellors from two to 10 available to take phone calls.

“It has been epic for us… we have been able to provide the training that is necessary.”

It took a significant financial investment to sufficiently train people to be suitable to take phone calls. Already the funding had helped to save the life of one caller, she said.

Awarua Runanga representative Gail Thompson said it was using its funding to teach people about growing food and cooking healthy meals, as well as preparing kai boxes for those in immediate need.

“The best part was seeing members of the group as well as children develop new skills,” she said.

Southland Loss & Grief Centre support worker and counsellor Jane Harley said the past two years had been particularly hard on people who weren’t able to be involved in traditional family celebrations and farewell loved ones who had died.

The centre had seen an increase in family breakups due to stress. The $35,000 gift to the group would go towards funding its drop-in centre and home visits, as well as subsidising counselling for those who were also coping with financial hardship.

Bluff School was using its gift to provide breakfast and lunch for all of its pupils and to buy computers to be used for remote learning.

St John Ambulance was able to buy a state-of-the-art Lifepak 15 defibrillator and charger for a new ambulance with its funding.

Southland Charity Hospital trustee Chris Menzies said the unexpected funding had made a positive impact on the progress of the hospital’s development and the level of generosity and support they had from the community.

“Sometimes you get a phone call and you struggle to fight back tears on how generous people of Southland are.”

Age Concern manager Janette Turner stressed how timely the funding was for the organisation, as it gave its members the message, during an unstable time, it was not going anywhere. People were able to see it was investing money into much-needed maintenance of its buildings.

“We have around 350 people every week who come through the door for some sort of socialisation and to be part of the community.

“It lets them see there is going to be a new norm. We just didn’t know what it would look like.”