July 01, 2017

Connecting communities

Nestled in the Motueka Valley, the residents of Tapawera have always known they were on to a good thing with small town living. 

While they didn’t complain about missing out on big city traffic and noise, the lack of internet connection that went hand-in-hand with their location meant it was increasingly difficult for families and businesses to do the basics of modern-day living. 

Internet banking was virtually impossible, and residents couldn’t make the video calls that are such an important part of how we communicate today. 

Poor internet connection was a common topic of conversation when Tapawera Area School principal Kelvin Woodley met up with residents and business owners at regular meetings, and he was keen to find out how the school’s resources could be used to benefit the community. As is common in small town New Zealand, when several heads get together to solve a problem, they come up with a very practical solution.

Thanks to a collaborative effort from local community members and donors, and funding from the Fonterra Grass Roots Fund, a series of radio towers have been installed around the district, making the school’s high-speed fibre connection available to the community.

“The Fonterra Grass Roots Fund has contributed to the cost of the towers, keeping the cost down for the community,” says Kelvin.

The towers are owned by the community, and an independent company maintains the network, and installs the modems and aerials homes and businesses need to access ultra-fast broadband. 

Kelvin says it was important internet access was made available to the community at a reasonable price, and he is pleased the monthly fee is comparable to what’s available in other parts of the country.

“We have a lot of families in the area and we wanted to make sure it was as affordable as they could manage,” he says.

Many of those families have children at school, and having internet access at home will open up new avenues for their online learning, which until now has been something that they have only been able to do at school.

While regional telecommunications isn’t specifically part of a school principal’s job description, Kelvin says the role definitely has a community liaison element to it.

“The Board of Trustees and I very much agree that the school is a community resource and we want to maximise the opportunities we can provide. This is part of that,” he says.

Each year, the Fonterra Grass Roots Fund helps up to 300 groups in New Zealand, supporting community initiatives through grants to, schools and educational groups, charities, sports clubs and local emergency services.

“It is our way of saying thank you to everyone who works so hard to make our communities great,” says Fonterra’s Global Sponsorship Manager Kane Silcock. “We love to support projects that make New Zealand a better place to be.”