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Fab Feathy wrapped up

When Featherston resident Jill Sexton walked into the Fab Feathy office about 18 months ago, looking for help to establish a community garden on a “spare patch of land” next to her church, it was the start of something special.

“The garden was something I’d thought about and talked about at [St Andrew’s] parish council meetings – just the possibilities that were there,” Sexton said.

As well as finding funding, Fab Feathy supported Sexton and her fellow enthusiasts by researching community garden success stories, and harnessing wider community support so they could get the garden up and running and run it themselves.

“The highlight for me was seeing it coming to fruition when we started planting things,” Sexton said. “I’m no gardener at all – but to see it actually happening brought me to tears.”

The garden is one of Hana Makin’s highlights from her time as a community facilitator at Fab Feathy – Featherston’s community-led development organisation – which wrapped up in February.

And while many would be sad to lose their job, that’s not the case for Makin, because in the world of community-led development [CLD], “it’s the whole point – to do yourself out of a job”.

Fab Feathy was established in 2018 after securing Community-Led Development Programme [CLDP] funding from the Department of Internal Affairs [DIA].

“The whole point of CLD is that the community are the ‘doers’ of it, it’s not being done to them,” Makin explained. “And the community made the decision to go for the funding.”

Makin, who joined Fab Feathy in 2021, described it as functioning as the community’s “cheerleader” and facilitator.

“Fab Feathy wasn’t meant to be doing the doing. It was there to support the people, the community, to do the doing.”

And Makin believed it was the community’s track record of “doing things for itself” that helped secure the CLDP funding.

“I think that seems to have always been the way in Featherston,” she said.

The projects, initiatives and activities that Fab Feathy helped “cheerlead” in its six-year tenure were guided by the town’s community plan, developed during a couple of years of “intensive work” preceding the funding.

The plan included goals like creating a vibrant Main St, ensuring Featherston’s young people have opportunities to share and develop their skills and talents, and revitalising the town’s heritage buildings.

Together with the five principles for CLD developed by the community support agency Inspiring Communities – which include building respectful relationships and building capacity – the plan helped guide Fab Feathy’s energies and resources.

“It was a great framework to have from the get-go,” Makin said. “Because there are curveballs. My office door was always open, and you’d have no idea who was going to walk in or what they were going to say.

“You can do as much planning as you like, but sometimes, somebody’s going to have this incredible idea that takes you off in a different direction. But as long as we could bring it back to the CLD principles, and the community plan, we could pitch in and support it.

“It was always about the people of Featherston.”

One of the “ultimate curveballs” was covid-19, which completely halted “business as usual”, Makin said.

Fab Feathy, guided and supported by its volunteer steering group, partnered closely with Jo Baldwin from the Featherston Community Centre [where its office was based] and other community movers and shakers to help coordinate the community’s response to the pandemic, called Kia Atawhai.

Together, they strengthened the relationship with the region’s food banks and helped ensure people isolating at home received food and supplies.

As the lockdown levels eased, Fab Feathy worked with others to help people reconnect by supporting initiatives like First Fridays – a community party held on the first Friday of every month through summer – and Dogs in Togs at the local pool.

“People had got very isolated, very lonely during covid. So we looked for ways to give people low-risk opportunities to connect with people again and have fun together,” Makin said.

Community initiatives supported by Fab Feathy in its six years include a community potluck dinner and Day of the Dead festival in 2018, funding a youth programme for the 2019 Featherston Booktown, a new community website and providing multi-year support to bike track developments, the Wairarapa Moana Trail, and Feed and Fund nights.

Makin is in no doubt as to the power of community-led development to help communities thrive and flourish, and to “amplify the amazing work that is already happening”.

“When something is community-led, it is so much more likely to be successful,” she said. “If someone who doesn’t know the community tries to push through what they think needs to happen to Featherston, people don’t take to it.

“Ideas from the community, done by the community, are so much more likely to be successful and sustainable. Initiatives will keep going because there are people that care, and there are people looking after them.

“Communities are powerful drivers for change.”

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