Auckland suburb Randwick Park goes from crime ghetto to a 'taste of heaven'

Randwick Park's Warriors of Change youth mentoring group.
Jay Boreham

Randwick Park's Warriors of Change youth mentoring group.

An Auckland community once synonymous with crime and poverty has undergone a remarkable transformation to become one of the best neighbourhoods in the country.

Randwick Park, in south Auckland's Manurewa, has been named among finalists for the Kiwibank Community of the Year award.

The winner will be announced at the New Zealander of the Year Awards Gala in Auckland on February 22, 2017.

From left, Alan Johnson, Angela Dalton, Daniel Newman and Maree Beaven at the opening of the new Randwick Park Community ...
Chris Harrowell

From left, Alan Johnson, Angela Dalton, Daniel Newman and Maree Beaven at the opening of the new Randwick Park Community House.

But for Manurewa Local Board chair Angela Dalton, it's a minor miracle the community is even in the running for this award considering what it faced eight years ago when three men callously killed a liquor store owner.

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The area was already known as one of the toughest in Manurewa with high unemployment and crime rates and an average income of just $25,000.

The bad old days: CCTV footage of the robbery in which Navtej Singh was shot dead.
Grahame Cox

The bad old days: CCTV footage of the robbery in which Navtej Singh was shot dead.

Dalton said there was a huge response from social services at the time but no one predicted what would follow.

"After the liquor store shooting every social service poured into the community and under the Local Board plan we chose to invest several million dollars into re-developing the Riverton Reserve," she said.

The reserve was behind the liquor store and included a graffiti riddled skate bowl and a large empty field. A residents' association was formed following the shooting and the group began campaigning for a community centre and sporting facilities to be built in order to engage the massive youth population in the area.

An artist's impression of the skate park at Rivertion Reserve in Randwick Park.
Supplied

An artist's impression of the skate park at Rivertion Reserve in Randwick Park.

Eight years later, the community not only got the centre with extensive facilities for sports and catering community gatherings but also rugby fields, a tennis court, cricket nets and a modern skate park which has already hosted high-level competitions. The development has also led members of the community to start their own lawn-mowing business employing ex-gang members and drug addicts to start a new life whilst working locally.

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Dalton credited a couple of community workers for being the catalyst to all the change.

"The biggest change happened with Dave and Denise Tims came in. They had a mission and they have worked with the youth as well as alcoholics, addicts and gang members. With them being here, it has enabled us as a local board to step back and walk alongside the community. And they have enabled the community to be empowered and determine how the park be developed."

Randwick park residents' association president Waina Kapa and Dave Tims at the skate park before it got developed.
Fiona Goodall

Randwick park residents' association president Waina Kapa and Dave Tims at the skate park before it got developed.

Dave Tims, who leads a Christian organisation called Urban Neighbours of Hope, said the change started with getting people to believe in themselves.

"Only half the story was being told and the other story hadn't been recognised - that Randwick Park is full of amazing people doing amazing stuff. Once you get these people together, self-belief starts to happen," he said.

When Dave and Denise first moved to Auckland from Australia the real estate agent they talked to warned them off Randwick Park as being too dangerous a place to raise their three kids. However the Tims took a different view on what the negative statistics meant.

School kids next to the shrine set up for slain bottle shop owner Navtej Singh.
DAVID WHITE

School kids next to the shrine set up for slain bottle shop owner Navtej Singh.

"What drives us is that everyone is made in the image of God," he said.

"I have found that the people with some of the most incredible strength are those who have suffered oppression in some way and when they grasp some self-belief they can achieve amazing things."

The Tims primarily run youth mentoring programs but this has evolved into overseeing a number of social enterprises aimed at empowering people into work. Dave said that their over-arching vision is one created with the youth in mind.

An artist's impression of what Riverton Reserve will look like once work on the  redevelopment is finished.
Supplied

An artist's impression of what Riverton Reserve will look like once work on the redevelopment is finished.

"The main question we are asking is: How do you support a neighbourhood to become a place no one wants to leave? And our young people have identified that it needs to be a place with employment, education, places of belonging and ways to connect to God."

Tims said whether they win the best community or not, they know they have helped create something special in Manurewa.

"We've had a taste of heaven and it tastes good."

* For more information about the activities on offer in this community, visit randwickpark.co.nz. The annual New Zealander of the Year awards are in their eighth year and the winners will be announced at the New Zealander of the Year Awards Gala in Auckland on February 22, 2017. Visit nzawards.org.nz for a full list of finalists.

 - Stuff

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