Northland mission eyes big picture to grow the grass roots
The view from the office of Northland Urban Rural Mission (NURM) is a constant reminder of the contentious issues the organization deals with. The panorama includes the peak that stands above Whangarei, known locally as Parahaki.
NURM community development worker Tim Howard believes the name was changed in the 19th century from its original – Parihaka – to disassociate it from the peaceful resistance movement in Taranaki.
Since it began 20 years ago NURM has taken up a variety of social justice and community development causes. It began as an initiative of the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Quaker churches. And it still operates with their financial support and guidance.
NURM’s stated aim is to create society based on the Treaty of Waitangi. It strives to achieve this by working with community groups, churches, and individuals to respond to social and economic issues.
Tim and partner Carol Peters say the five churches launched NURM in 1981 to deal with unemployment and social disruption that followed completion of the Marsden B power station.
“In the 1980s NURM’s focus was on industrial chaplaincy, community houses, and in-service training for community workers. We have always had strong Maori input.
“We have worked with Maori advisors and had Maori on the board of directors. Some of those we have worked with include Rev Maori Marsden, Rev Winiata Morunga, and Pakeha Treaty educator Rev Joan Cook. In the 1990s we restructured ourselves on Treaty lines as a collective with two caucuses,” Tim says.
One of NURM’s successes was its three year campaign to get local government to re-establish public transport in Whangarei when deregulation ended it. Carol says public transport is a social justice issue because it is a service used primarily by the young, the elderly, and low income families.
Another NURM-led project is the effort to retrofit homes of low-income families for better energy efficiency. NURM has also provided mediation and cultural awareness training for Whangarei police following conflict between the police and young Maori.
These days the wide variety of activities NURM is engaged in include Treaty education and implementation workshops, educational programmes on community development for groups and individual health care workers; and support for Te Tai Tokerau Community Law Service.
The issue currently on NURM’s plate is the impending Seabed and Foreshore Bill. It has run workshops and created a resource kit for people who want to make written or oral submissions to about the bill.
Because it is based at Raumanga Co-operating Parish in Whangarei most of NURM’s activities are focused on the city. But, true to its name, it also supports community development in rural areas. There is a NURM group active in Kaeo and NURM convenes a collective of community economic workers in Moerewa.
Tim says whereas community groups are generally caught up in the day-to-day details necessary to carry out their core tasks, NURM is in a position to stand back, keep an eye on what’s happening in the community, and create or mobilise groups to address particular issues.
“We are well-placed to spot the gaps where there is a need for community services. We have a range of external relations and we can provide the cohesion to push projects forward.
“Our ideal is to set up organisations and then stand back and let them carry on by themselves. Sometimes we need to step back in and support but they generally get moving on their own again.”
Other groups NURM work with include Action Research Education Network Aotearoa (ARENA) and the community research and development trust Kotare.