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Te Hau Toka community wellbeing evaluation shows the power of collective action

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A micro-fund initiative encouraging Southern Lakes residents to find ways to connect, look after themselves and each other and have some fun, was a standout performer in supporting community wellbeing during the COVID response and recovery according to an independent evaluation.

Released today, the evaluation of Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group singled out several key initiatives including the Connecting Communities fund, describing it as “very effective” and “a highly visible initiative that extended the reach of mental wellbeing activities across the communities”.

Overall, Te Hau Toka’s mahi (work) was described as “inspiring, moving and meaningful”, proving effective in promoting evidence-based wellbeing and amplifying existing or planned initiatives across the Queenstown Lakes, Central and Fiordland areas. 

More specifically, the evaluation identified four key areas of improved mental health and wellbeing outcomes - literacy; knowledge about supports; access to community-led initiatives; and stronger partnerships to support and sustain mental wellbeing.

Te Hau Toka Chair Adell Cox welcomed the report and said she was particularly pleased that it found that the group’s work had helped give locals “permission to speak” about mental wellbeing.

“While there’s more work to do, we’re humbled by what’s been collectively achieved. It shows that building community capacity and resilience by giving people the tools, education and support to look after themselves – and others – is critically important in helping them recover from adversity. These learnings will be valuable in shaping future programmes required to respond to emergencies or unanticipated events.”

The 63-page report by Dr Delwyn Goodrick, a psychologist who’s been working as an academic and evaluation practitioner for the past 25 years, reviewed Te Hau Toka’s intended outcomes and activities. 

“Being rural and heavy reliant on tourism, Southern Lakes communities were hit particularly hard by COVID-19 and Te Hau Toka’s work has been important in supporting recovery,” says Dr Goodrick. “Community ownership and participation have been key and the programme has demonstrated the power of collective action.  Health promotion initiatives were undertaken with, and by the community, to strengthen mental wellbeing. Actions were informed by evidence. The range of initiatives and groups supported ensured that mental wellbeing messages reached far and wide across communities.”

As part of the evaluation, 52 in-depth individual interviews were conducted with people who offered and/or participated in community activities supported by Te Hau Toka funding. A content analysis of Te Hau Toka’s Connecting Communities programme, resources and communications was completed and Te Hau Toka group members were also surveyed and interviewed.

The report found that the group’s work was particularly effective because it came from experienced, knowledgeable and connected individuals who ‘walked the talk’ of community wellbeing, met every week, and made decisions that were transparent, based on criteria, and well-documented.  The governance group, made up of the iwi representative of the seven runaka, the three mayors of the region, and the Health New Zealand - Southern director, also provided strong support and advocacy.

“Our group came together after the COVID-19 lockdown began because we were concerned about the negative effect the fast-moving events and wall-to-wall media coverage was having on people’s mental health. We knew we needed to do something to stop it spiralling. We each had different skills to contribute to collectively try and make a difference,” says Ms Cox.

The report found that the group’s solid foundation meant that once it received funding in 2021 from the Government’s Tourism Communities: Support, Recovery and Re-set Plan, it was able to quickly mobilise a programme of work and investment into the communities. 

This included a co-design process with the community (250 locals as well as community providers and national experts) which identified five priority vulnerable groups: child, youth and families; business; migrant communities; new/expectant parents; and seniors.

Three mental wellbeing coordinators/navigators were employed in the Central Lakes and Fiordland to support wellbeing initiatives and ensure resources were easily accessible. These roles were found to be highly effective and “acted as a conduit for facilitating and amplifying mental health wellbeing initiatives across the region, providing a local central point of contact within the community, and increasing the visibility of Te Hau Toka activities”.

A communications and community engagement role soon followed, which “facilitated positive, clear and consistent framing of key health promotion messages and reaffirmed the aims and focus of Te Hau Toka on mental wellbeing” according to the report. 

Te Hau Toka collaborated with a range of stakeholders including businesses, not-for-profit groups and local Government. The report found that partnering and funding well-respected local groups to extend the reach of their wellbeing programmes “rather than reinventing the wheel” was effective and avoided duplication. 

The funding of Te Pou to adapt the internationally renowned evidence-based Youth Mental Health First Aid programme for New Zealand-specific use and pilot it in the Southern Lakes region, was highlighted as one of the legacy initiatives left by Te Hau Toka. It noted “with youth mental wellbeing a national area of concern across sectors, this translational work has the capacity to add value and provide transformative change.”

Overall, the independent evaluation found that Te Hau Toka’s initiatives aligned with established evidence about what works to support mental wellbeing.

“This has reinforced the benefit of ensuring the community ‘owns’ the programme from the beginning so that mental wellbeing outcomes continue even if the funding ends,” Dr Goodrick says. “Te Hau Toka does not stand as a programme of work that was implemented in communities, but rather, it was implemented by communities.  In this way, Te Hau Toka was a conduit to promote community mental wellbeing.”

View the full evaluation report at

About the Connecting Communities fund

Three times a year, eligible not-for-profit groups were able to apply for up to $1000 from the Connecting Communities fund to run community activities that aligned with evidence-based wellbeing strategies ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ and ‘Te Whare Tapa Whā’. The evaluation highlighted a sense of wellbeing not only for those participating in the activities, but for the applicants who felt like they were helping their communities.

A total of $504,000 was allocated to 556 groups over eight funding rounds. The majority of the activities were targeted at the priority groups identified in the co-design report.

Feedback from the activities showed high levels of community satisfaction, with funding stimulating many applicants to build on their initiatives and turn them into ongoing programmes of work. Other community organisations are also looking at replicating the ‘Connecting Communities’ microfunding model.

About Te Hau Toka

Te Hau Toka is an inter-agency collaboration for regional health and wellbeing in the Southern Lakes region which focuses on promotion, prevention and early intervention with an equity lens.

Te Hau Toka was formed in June 2020 by a group of key health, social sector and local government agencies. It includes Health New Zealand – Southern, WellSouth Primary Health Network, Queenstown Lakes District Council, Central Lakes Family Services, the Fiordland Wellbeing Collective, and iwi.