Wairarapa Whanau Trust youth group made a big impact at the Easter Camp in Feilding earlier this year, winning the team spirit award for the Top Town Competition. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

From widespread crime in South Wairarapa five years ago to only minor misdemeanours today, Alan Maxwell and the Wairarapa Whanau Trust can be well pleased with their work.

Maxwell said the area was reaping the benefits of a Featherston-based trust that connected with youth and kept them busy.

South Wairarapa youth-related crime was at an “all-time high” when Maxwell answered a mayday call in 2015 from the Anglican Parish Church to relocate from Masterton to Featherston.

With a lack of presence of social agencies in the area, his role as co-ordinator of Wairarapa Anglican Youth was to provide a safe space and work with youth to identify and address barriers they faced.

South Wairarapa Police Sergeant Richie Day said the youth group had made a “world of difference” in Featherston.

“Prior to it being set up, youth crime in South Wairarapa used to be a big problem, now it’s pretty much non-existent,” he said.

Maxwell, and his support crew, deserved huge praise for what they had achieved, Day said.

Within two years, Maxwell – with much needed “support from heaps of others” – had broken the back of the problem largely through creating a “genuine alternative” for youth.

“What blew me away when I first spoke to the kids was that they had already given up on their future, Maxwell said.

“They saw their future as being very bleak and with little options.”

But when Maxwell provided an alternative, in the form of a youth group, things took off pretty quickly, he said.

Through the youth group, he developed a programme which engaged the teens with the community through activities like gardening, working bees, and fundraising events for community projects.

“It was actually surprising how quickly it grew; we had a core group of about 50, but there were others on the periphery as well.

“The minute they felt like they were part of the wider community, a lot of the trouble stopped.

“I think it is because they had a sense of belonging.”

While there is a faith-based element to the organisation, the guiding principles are to do with personal integrity, Maxwell said.

“It’s about providing a safe place to grow; somewhere they can go and not get ridiculed for being themselves. In that space, they can talk about the things that really matter and what’s going on in their lives.”

The success of the youth group led to the establishment three years ago of the Wairarapa Whanau Trust, an organisation that partners with schools, church and parishes, community, and the 24/7 YouthWork programme to provide youth workers in schools.

South Wairarapa District Council is “very supportive” of the programme and contributes significant financial support, Maxwell said.

Other big funders are the Trust House Foundation and NZ Lotteries.

For the third consecutive year, the Trust House Foundation has approved annual funding of $20,000.

The Wairarapa Whanau Trust’s tentacles stretch across all of Wairarapa.

From their Featherston base they run both a senior and junior youth group and have two youth workers placed in Kuranui College.

There is also a group in St Matthew’s Church in Masterton.