David Hanna has been a long-time champion of community-led solutions. The work of Wesley Community Action, of which he has been Director since 2005, spans a full range of programmes challenging social disadvantage. Over the past three years, this has included nurturing ‘P’ Pull, which grew out of Waitangarua and is now a national movement. New funding was allocated in June this year.
Q How will funding impact your organisation’s ability to support the NZ ‘P’ Pull movement?
A It will reduce the very high risk of burn-out and enable NZ ‘P’ Pull to plan with some confidence that they have resources to support initiatives. A key gain will be access to training and support for people working in isolated communities.
Q What does NZ ‘P’ Pull offer that other programmes don’t?
A NZ ‘P’ Pull is not a service. It’s a community-initiated movement run by people with direct experience who have amassed practical expertise in how to support people dealing with the impacts of P. This approach means that many people feel safer and more open to come along to a walk-in rather than other treatment options. There’s no pressure on people – they determine the pace.
Q What does it mean to be embedded in the community?
A It’s the community who sits around the table: grandparents, young adults, rangatahi, ex-users, users, uncles and aunties, young parents. The walk-ins are hosted by a community member, and there’s no criteria to access. This is the only initiative that mixes these diverse groups.
Q What does it look like to let the community determine the direction?
A Generally, it’s exciting. It brings to the table a whole part of our community that is frequently excluded. It can look a bit messy, but that’s OK. The challenge is to identify that which is critical and non-negotiable and that which is flexible and optional. It requires a new mindset and set of skills for conventional providers of government services. This can be challenging but also highly rewarding.
Q What are your worries for how social services might be provided in a post-Covid world?
A There’s always the risk that government agencies will move to be more prescriptive post-Covid. But NZ ‘P’ Pull, being a social movement, is in a safer position to keep true to its kaupapa. Wesley Community Action’s role is to manage the interface between communities and government systems. Experience has made us wary of promises of ‘co-design’, which often lead to the same old service-oriented outcomes.
Q When you wrote in a recent opinion piece that “the real experts are the people who want change”, what did you mean?
A This is central to a person-led approach. The person seeking change is the expert in their lives. No one else knows them better than they do. Therefore, any step towards change needs to be based on this expertise and grow out of this knowledge. This doesn’t mean professional workers and experts aren’t needed – they are. Their expertise is to connect the person with their own knowledge and capacity and host a process that helps them determine what ‘better’ looks like for them.
Q You also argued that sections of society referred to as ‘vulnerable’ are often in fact very resilient. What kinds of structures aid or entrench vulnerability?
A Resiliency requires stress to be formed. A person-led approach doesn’t totally remove the stress or vulnerability. Rather, it supports people to grow their capacity in responding to stress. This is essentially all about learning. Well-meaning approaches can ‘colonise’ people whereby the key worker drives the process and removes the opportunity for people to learn and grow. This approach actually heightens their vulnerability. There is a tipping point (different for everyone) where too much stress becomes toxic. Public policy solutions that reduce poverty and inequality are essential. Housing First is a great example of the integration of these two strands.
Q The concept of mutual aid has gained traction during the pandemic. How does this model differ from charity?
A Mutual aid models are person and community-led, like NZ ‘P’ Pull. The ownership and direction is driven by the people seeking the change. Charity is fickle – easily turned on and turned off. Mutual aid initiatives are more sustainable because power and knowledge reside and grow in the community instead of remaining with the charity and funders. There’s no one best approach. We need to learn how they inform each other.
Q Does this gain in momentum feel exciting to you?
A It’s exciting and also frustrating. Wesley is involved in many forms of mutual aid such as NZ ‘P’ Pull, timebanks, savings pools and fruit and vegie co-operatives. But despite mutual aid models being the most effective, they’re the hardest to fund because they don’t fit the dominant funding criteria.
Q Are we close to reimagining the way communities can receive and give support nationally?
A We’re only in the very early stages of this transformation process. Covid and the growing ecological consciousness have the potential to foster greater connections and sharing between people working from this kaupapa. The time has come to stop asking for permission and to let go of our organisational or sector egos. The role of the local community will be more central.
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