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Nelson Methodist drive social research programme

By Paul Titus

A research and action programme is the latest endeavour of Nelson's Methodist Social Action.

Over the past year it worked closely with government departments, regional authorities, and the Nelson Community and Whanau Network, an umbrella group of 140 community organisations, to assess the social wellbeing of the city and develop recommendations on how to improve it.

Rev Brian Turner says money that Methodist Social Action contributed from a Prince Albert College Trust largely funded the social wellbeing study.

"We wanted to fund something that went from the ground up. We knew there are real gaps between rich and poor in Nelson and we were concerned the agencies were duplicating their efforts in some areas and missing out in others.

"A five person task group managed the project. It hired Brigid Ryan to conduct the research and write the report."

After the research was carried out focus groups discussed the findings and the result was 42 recommendations that focus on six key sectors: 1) culture and identity; 2) income; 3) housing; 4) health; 5) knowledge and skills; and 6) safety and security.

Among the critical areas the study uncovered are the high cost of housing in the Nelson area, the fact that Nelson has a low income and high cost economy, mental health and disability in the area is above the national average, and a problem with youth at risk, especially Maori youth.

"Reception of the research has been very encouraging. Nelson MP Nick Smith says it is the best piece of applied research he has ever seen. The next stage of the project is for community groups and lead agencies to develop specific plans to act on the recommendations," Brian says.

"In this regard Methodist Social Action will focus its efforts in three areas. Because of the bicultural nature of the Methodist Church, we have a lot to offer in the area of culture, identity, and human rights. Methodist Social Action is also strong in health, particularly mental health. And I am involved with the Nelson City Council's social policy group so that will be another part of the Methodist contribution."

More than 300 copies of the report have been distributed. Brian says its real test will be whether it makes a real difference to ordinary people's lives and does not become just another glossy publication gathering dust on the shelves of agencies and institutions.