A place to belong

Stephen and Tracey Fawcett at ‘The Loft’, a funky new space for the youth of Te Puke.

We all want somewhere to belong and the youth of Te Puke are no exception.

After conducting a youth survey in Te Puke via their charitable trust, The Vector Group, Stephen and Tracey Fawcett have set up ‘The Loft' on Jellicoe St.

Housed, aptly, in the loft of a former business premises, The Loft is a funky chill-out space where the couple offer creative activities and upskilling opportunities for the town's teenagers.

There are comfy armchairs and sofas, beanbags, scatter cushions and wall hangings with inspirational messages, a pool table, books and a games corner, as well as a kitchen and meeting room.

“There was nothing in Te Puke for youth,” says Stephen. “This was before the skate park opened, Youth Hub had shut down and while there are events here, many aren't of any interest to youth.”

At the moment The Loft is only open for specific activities and events, including social table tennis on Monday afternoons but Stephen and Tracey hope to organise an open day for the community soon.

Local MP Todd McCLay has had a sneak peek as a guest at The Loft's ‘Pizza and Politics' night. “Todd came in and sat in our casual environment with everyone sitting on the floor. It was a safe environment for him and the youth were really engaged and very respectful. He said it had been one of the favourite parts of his day,” says Tracey.

Since starting up in December last year, The Vector Group has completed 24 projects in the community, all under the voluntary steam of Stephen and Tracey. A start-up grant from a local donor “put the wheels on it” and, together with the donation of unused office space, enabled them to open The Loft.

“We haven't had any official funding. The first year you have to show that you're doing something, or you sit back and wait for the money before you do something. We've achieved heaps already this year,” say Tracey. In future the trust will apply for grants and community funding.

“We want youth to be engaging in something, being proactive. There's a big market of creativity in the Bay at the moment and we're quite motivated towards that and we want to offer them opportunities to do that.”

Stephen and Tracey recently got a group of young people together to take part in a 48-hour film-making competition with Bay of Plenty Film, which they came away from with Runner Up and Best Cinematography awards.

Future plans in film include students making business show reels showing the personalities behind local businesses.

“Along the lines of ‘Why do you have a gift shop? What's your passion?' At the same time we're giving youth interviewing skills. While they're learning, business and community are flourishing. We want to do things that are creative, but also give back to the community,” says Stephen.

The Vector Group has also launched the online Te Puke Directory – www.tepukedirectory.co.nz – a central portal where people can go to find out what sort of businesses and non-profit community groups are available in Te Puke.

“When we set up The Vector Group we couldn't find anything like this. There are other directories but they are membership-orientated. There's also a collaborative calendar there so local event information can be shared,” says Stephen.

“We're all about collaborating with other community groups. There is strength in community. We need each other to make the connections for youth.”

Another initiative that got underway this year was the establishment of a pop-up shop for the Te Puke High School ball in July. The community was asked to donate unwanted formal evening wear that students could borrow to wear to the ball.

“All of these donations started coming in [almost 100 dresses were donated] and I was really pleased because it showed me that the community really wanted to do something,” says Tracey.

Local hairdressers and make-up artists also offered their services at low-cost and The Loft was temporarily turned into a beauty shop.

“The girls came in and were pampered and we had a lovely lady in the community donate some money so we could have something to eat.”

The pop-up shop will remain a feature of The Loft and Tracey and Stephen hope it will be added to over time and be available for other community events.

The couple, who have teenage children of their own, are keen to ensure that young people in the town have the opportunity to tap into their creativity, explore career options and have events targeted at them.

“We're creatively minded so we want to give [youth] some of those skills, and a place to belong because that's what they told us they wanted,” says Tracey.

“We need to do a good job of giving them the space to grow and to learn. Our schools are doing a great job but our community can also be involved in upskilling youth and giving them a break. If we don't do that our youth move away. I don't want to live in a retirement village. We need to be listening to them and some of their needs.”

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