18 October 2023

What's involved with a community work project?

For most people, Community Work is relatively hidden – perhaps they have seen Community Workers on a project on their commute to work, or when going for a walk. They may even have experienced the benefits of community work without knowing, through a project at a local park or school.

However, there is a lot more that goes into a community work project than meets the eye.

Under the management of Community Work Supervisors, people on a community work sentence do unpaid work in the community to repay an offence, take responsibility and learn new skills. Community Work Supervisors managing these projects need to build strong partnerships with community organisations, supervise work parties, teach new skills, and ensure that projects are carried out safely.

We talked to Tina, a Lead Service Manager for Community Work and Ellen, a Community Work Supervisor, to learn a bit more about what’s involved with a community work project.

Partnering with the community for a project                                                                                                                                        

The first step in the process is finding a suitable community work project/sponsor. Tina says that this can happen in a range of ways – an organisation approaching the team, suggestions made via networks, or through the community work team reaching out to organisations or community providers.

“The key for us to determine is that the kaupapa aligns with our outcomes and our values – along with ensuring the scope of work meets our legislation requirements.

Ideally, we are looking for partnerships that lead to meaningful projects and agencies, leading to positive pathways.  Whether that be pathways to employment, further education, reconnecting back to hapu, marae, connecting with local providers and having an awareness of what support is in our communities.”

In this initial stage, Service Managers and Senior Community Work Supervisors play a key role in building partnerships. Tina says that networking is crucial to the project’s success, and that they often hold agency evenings where they invite as many providers as they can.

“The purpose of these evenings is to give thanks and provide information on the process for new agencies or sponsors. Bringing these groups together helps us to network and find ways to work together to support, lift and strengthen our communities.”

Some examples of organisations that Tina and her team have partnered with have included their local marae, Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, Time to Thrive, local food banks and local churches. 

“We’ve also had very good relationships with Department of Conservation, Tupuna Maunga Authority, and local councils.

Different projects have included restoration of our maunga, planting native trees, gardening, maintenance of grounds, and support for food banks and stores.”

Managing work parties

Once a project has been agreed to and established, work on the site begins.

On each project, Community Work Supervisors manage up to 8 people subject to community work. It’s their role to ensure that the project runs smoothly, while supporting those on community work to complete their hours.

“This includes working closely with the community sponsor, setting the work party up for the day, delegation of tasks… plus teaching people how to use tools correctly (for example a lawnmower or weed eater) and ensuring that Health and Safety is followed for everyone’s safety.”

Tina highlights that to do this well Community Work Supervisors need to be patient, understanding, and have a positive attitude.

“The best way to engage is through treating everyone with respect. It’s about role modelling good behaviour, being organised, clear in direction… and being willing to support, motivate and teach new skills.”

She says that the ideal way to ensure that a project is a success is through positive relationships and interactions with everyone involved in the project, including the team from the sponsor organisation on site.

“This could include conversations regarding Health and Safety, checking in on the work party, how the project is going. It could also involve questions from people on the work party asking about how many hours they have left, and any other matters that need addressing. Having that support from the team on site is vital to ensure the day runs smoothly.”

Ellen agrees, saying that “clear communication, adaptability, respect and acknowledgement are key.”

For Tina personally, a standout community work project involved working in partnership Tupuna Maunga Authority & Department of Conservation to restore Matukutururu, a maunga in Wiri, South Auckland.

Part of what made this project so meaningful for her was the opportunity to reconnect people to the land, and to contribute to a piece of work that would benefit many generations to come. It was also special for her to hear from one of the people on community work that they felt similar.

“One of the comments from one of our Community Workers was that they would one day bring their tamariki, their Mokopuna back to the maunga and let them know that they were a part of planting thousands of the native trees that are now flourishing on the maunga.

Being able to be a part of the restoration of that maunga was a project that had meaning for everyone involved.”

Finishing a job

Once a project is completed, Tina says that the relationship with the community sponsor doesn’t end there. Generally, the work is continued, and the relationship maintained.

“For the different projects and type of work we can do, there is always something we can continue. If we do finish a piece of work, the engagement with a community organisation may lead on to another project or another organisation through networking.”

Importantly, a strong connection to the project can also sometimes remain for those that are on community work, allowing the positive benefits for the community to continue.

“Habitat for Humanity in Whangarei, for example, had several people that continued to support the work after their sentence was up”, Tina says.

The Auckland Teaching Gardens even had one community worker gain employment as a lead for one of the community gardens. We have many examples of people staying on as volunteers.”

Ellen says that for her, completing a project gives her a real sense of achievement, and helps to reinforce why she enjoys her role.

“I really enjoy helping people to complete their sentence, working together in the community, and having the opportunity to teach life skills.”

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