Our Story

As a community born-and-bred initiative, we have ​come a long way from where we started. So how did Taranaki ​Retreat come to be, and why?

Mai i te Aituā ki te Tūmanako – From Tragedy to Hope

Carrie Allen, Aged 12

Carrie Allen, Aged 12

Mai i te Aituā ki te Tūmanako – From Tragedy to Hope

In September 2012, a family in Taranaki buried their beautiful twelve-year-old daughter, Carrie. She had experienced a rough ride in her short life, and her beautiful siblings and parents loved her so dearly, and continue to love and miss her so very very much. Through this loss, they had experienced the worst time in their lives – and, through that experience, had also known much loving care. During her illness, the experience of stays at Ronald McDonald house was significant:

  • No charge for the stay – no being leant on to pay for things you just couldn’t manage in the middle of crisis. Stuff was bad enough already,  without extra bills added in.
  • The team understood about trauma and how it affected people. So there was a readiness to care, and all that it was possible to cover off was done!
  • From time to time, local businesses would come in and cook a meal for all the residents. Over the dished up sossies, you knew that they knew (and understood). Their compassion and understanding went a long, long way.
  • Being around others walking a similar path helped battle a sense of isolation in your situation.

Also significant was the experience of others going through different kinds of losses – how hard it was to find similar compassion and understanding if the suffering was with mental health, it carried such a terrible stigma. How difficult it was to know what to do following, for example, a suicide attempt by a loved-one, when they returned home from ED. What next – both for that person, and their friends? It turned out that ‘business as usual’ isn’t the right call.

Ta Tātou Timatanga – Our Longed-For Beginnings

Ta Tātou Timatanga – Our Longed-For Beginnings

There were some terrible tragedies in the community which prompted a move from wringing hands in despair to rolling up the sleeves in action. We understood that it was the responsibility of the WHOLE COMMUNITY to bring about the change we wanted to see – not the health service, or the government, but whakawhanaungatanga – those two institutions working collaboratively with the community, rebuilding the village.

People began to share their stories… and how they wanted to see things change in the future. How could this family help with the plan? Finally, an experience away on Retreat – of a caring environment and ‘getting away from it all’ – prompted the same family to sell their house, and buddy up with others feeling similar hope and wondering about similar possibilities. A charitable trust was formed in 2014; the land was purchased, and intense volunteer work began on bringing it to fruition. A site for a time-out space was carefully chosen, its assets including:

  • The view of the sea in the distance
  • Its raw, rural, true Taranaki style (with the cattle slowly walking past in the paddock next door)
  • The presence of the flowing awa bringing the elements of peace, refreshment and freshness (including the place where two waters meet)
  • The beautiful drive of anticipation to the site
  • ​…and, of course, the uninterrupted view of Te Maunga tapu o Taranaki


Preparing to Walk the Land

Pōwhiri at the new Retreat Site

Karakia for our new Kaupapa

Te Waihanga me te Tuku Pūtea – Building and Fundraising

Te Waihanga me te Tuku Pūtea – Building and Fundraising

Starting a new venture takes time, care, hope… and a LOT of trailer-loads of metal! Every widget, spade, cable, connector, brick, chunk of timber… was negotiated at the best possible price – or blagged. The bare paddock was gradually transformed – piece by piece – thanks to an extraordinary crew.

There were plenty of setbacks and fishhooks, as you’d imagine: resource and building consents, getting power to the site was a challenge, as was finding the right waste-water system, and deciding what to do with the valley that was a taonga of the site. We hosted some amazing guys on a WINZ scheme called “Project in the Community” who dreamed up “Dragonfly Valley” with its beautiful boardwalks.

Fundraising and grant applications were a slow-starter – impossible to progress until there was something worth investing in. But gradually, people hopped on board, and the site was developed.

A local building firm (A1 Homes) assisted hugely with bringing the project across the line, and the Lodge was constructed by the hands of many master-builders, all of whom (incredibly kindly) donated their time.

Beauty was an important element of the site for us. We wanted it to look and feel lovely and peaceful – and safe, as a trauma-informed environment (like a secret garden, filled with fruit trees, shrubs, flowers and homegrown veggies) – but most of that had to wait until the majority of the build process had been completed (trucks and tractors not being too kind to seedlings). We also set an objective that the site would be organic and environmentally sustainable – we wanted to be as kind to the whenua as we knew the whenua would be kind to us.


The “Lodge” – nearly complete!

Some of the hard work that went into the construction of the Retreat. We created boardwalks and sandbag walls, built structures and laid concrete, among many, many other things:)

Whānau earthbag wall construction

Building the boardwalk in Dragonfly Valley

One of MANY Working Bees – people were INCREDIBLE

The first ‘Buildings’ – kitsets – were a MISSION!

Whakarongo me Akoranga – Listening and Learning

Whakarongo me Akoranga – Listening and Learning

While the physical build process was going on, the newly-formed Trust Board, with care and diligence, developed the governance model that would underpin the work of the Retreat. Lessons were learned through much careful listening to where the gaps were in the community – the deficits, the needs, where people were slipping through. Every story (and there were many) was listened to and learnt from. As this was a grassroots initiative, the co-design and co-production process was from the ground-up, rather than the top-down. We worked with:

  • Kaupapa Māori healthcare organisations: marae, iwi, and hapū
  • Many, many whānau who had experienced loss through suicide
  • People, communities, and groups that were marginalised, receiving inequitable treatment, and struggling for their voice to be heard
  • Those supporting children and young people dealing with depression, anxiety, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts
  • Those enduring trauma, grief, and loss
  • Clinicians with the DHBs, in private practice, and in other social service organisations
  • The wealth of amazing services there are in Taranaki
  • Other regions / similar facilities in the world / Suicide Prevention Trusts
  • Suicidologists and authors who had written extensively on the subject; there was so much time spent studying models and poring over research – learning, listening, adapting

Gradually, we understood what we were to be here for and the shape of the need. After three years of that listening, careful learning, building, fundraising, setbacks, and incredible support from the community; dry-runs at hosting people; loads of meetings and careful training; and building up our volunteer base, in March 2017, the site was officially opened by Mike King, with a capacity crowd taking a look around. 

Pōwhiri and Site Opening – YESSS!

The community gathered, and a different kind of mahi began.

Waimanako – The Waters of Hope


Waimanako – The Waters of Hope


Over a three year period, we explored possibilities to establish a community support and information hub as part of our long-term Strategic Plan and in response to the community’s expressed need for a drop-in base.

Similar models established in other regions were examined in depth, and a funding partnership created to establish a peer support development team for the project. This diverse group brings a lived-experience base for co-design of the project, and each individual involved has received supervision, training, and personal development throughout. An observer of this process expressed, in feedback:

“Your model of training recovering people to help the same people in need is so simple, but I know from experience that once you are branded with a history of mental health no one will listen to you, it is like being accused of something you didn’t do and then spending your life proving your innocence. It feels to me like I am forever trying to prove my sanity or that I did receive some wisdom from my journey.”

We constantly acknowledge the value of this work (the grassroots approach), recognising that it fully aligns with the Every Life Matters/He Tapu te Oranga o ia Tangata Report (2019). Unless services are guided and formed by lived experience in a way that is neither tokenistic nor harmful, we cannot achieve mana ōrite – the impact of stigma continues, intergenerational patterns will remain unshifted, and no significant changes will be made to address New Zealand’s heartbreaking suicide loss.

Facilities available for use by Te Whatu Ora / NGOs / Community Groups / Organisations

During 2021, a partnership arrangement with New Plymouth District Council enabled Waimanako; / The Waters of Hope to be established. The service focuses on developing and implementing new care models which will strengthen the community; build whānau resilience; and improve and facilitate access to support with equity through whakawhanaungatanga -increased integration of services to link community with primary and secondary services.

The facility is scoped to provide a drop-in space in the community in which clinical and non-clinical services can collaborate to provide a simple and immediate point of access; information (and onward referral to allied services as appropriate); supervised peer listening support; well-being services; simple, nutritious kai for koha; and a sober socialising space for our region, to tautoko people abstaining, and mitigate risks associated with social isolation.

The premises comprise:

  • Three large, well-lit spaces which were formally retail outlets. These have been set up as confidential counselling/support meeting spaces for use with individuals or whānau groups
  • Manga Huatoi / The Creative Hub – a spacious area which has been configured as a drop-in information hub with facilities for creative activities to enhance wellbeing. This space is available to the community and Te Whatu Ora for Support Groups and training
  • The Koha Cafe – a cafe space in which a commercial kitchen has been installed, scoped to operate as a zero-alcohol, kai-for-koha hospitality venue to address distress relating to material hardship and isolation


The Koha Cafe

Manga Huatoi / The Creative Hub

One of our Support Rooms

Best practice: Engagement in the community

The establishment of Waimanako (The Waters of Hope) is in direct response to needs consistently expressed by Whānau experiencing distress; which includes

  • The ‘lottery effect’ (compare the disparity between encountering a support person or clinician who has good local knowledge, has capacity to explore onward referral, and is familiar with service availability/referral pathways – to a brief appointment with a locum who may not be familiar with “what’s out there” and where those opportunities are not always made available)
  • Difficulties encountered in undertaking research when in a place of distress (“too hard basket”) – leading to a lack of awareness of the availability of excellent local support services. This is heightened by scarcity messaging encountered in the media – expressing that services are over-stretched, waiting lists are full, and ‘the system is broken’ – resulting in a sense that ‘my situation is not important enough to merit support’ and ‘there isn’t enough to go around – I might as well not bother’
  • Uncertainty over eligibility and requirements for referral to services (often seemingly originating from services being overstretched or ambivalent about making referral pathways too simple through fear of being swamped) and difficulties accessing GP-referred support where financial hardship prevents GP access
  • Whakamā – anxiety and shame inhibiting engagement with hospital-based services (where there is trauma, engagement in a culturally and trauma-informed environment is critical for recovery) – addressed by meeting on ‘neutral turf’ and making the threshold as easy as possible to cross
  • Better outcomes where whānau have a capable advocate in their midst (the benefit of having a well-resourced ‘squeaky wheel’), compared with less favourable outcomes where a person presents in isolation or where whānau and support networks are conflicted or dysfunctional (thus highlighting the helpful affect of a sense of advocacy present in the mix, and the provision of this where it is lacking)
  • Consistent value and empowerment expressed in peer-support involvement
  • Tāngata whai ora expressing a difficult or triggering involvement with Crisis Supports, where this has included extended wait times, a stressful ED experience, and a triage process in which the person felt unheard “I was assessed and sent home again” – with a lack of capacity for followup. It is clear that this is by no means due to failings in those services (which are under consistent high demand and staffed by remarkable people); rather that it was never the right ‘fit’ for acute services in the first place. Tāngata whai ora relate the experience of attending ED, simply because there was no other option available (unfortunately, calling helplines is not an option that suits all people; in many cases a face-to-face encounter in the community is found to be needed to address anxiety and that a ‘real person’ bears witness to their situation). Upon reflection, a peer-supported engagement could both reduce load on Crisis Services (including police and ED) – enabling capacity for attention to other acute needs – and have led to a better outcome (keeping that which can safely be addressed within the community being resourced by the community)
  • Recovery pathways being damaged by social isolation, particularly by those tackling addiction and lacking a place to form connection

Karakia for the launch of Waimanako

Ngā mihi nui to every individual, whānau, and organisation that has made Waimanako possible.

You can read the ongoing Waimanako story, here.