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Bold local enterprise in Te Puke

Trustee Dale Snell and trust chairperson Karen Summerhays in the post box lobby of Te Puke Post.

Te Puke locals have taken matters into their own hands by becoming operators of the local NZ Post.

There were a few defining moments when the progressive and upbeat Te Puke Centre Charitable Trust thought it might be forced to quit and return all its investor funds.

“We tended to look through rose tinted glasses,” says chairperson of the trust, Karen Summerhays. “Then we would crash back to reality over issues of funding, liability or insurance.”

But then this week, despite the rollercoaster ride, the trust boldly decided to proceed with its resident funded plan to become the operator of NZ Post’s postal and bill paying services in Te Puke’s main thoroughfare, Jellicoe Street.

NZ Post was re-assessing its future after Kiwibank pulled out of Te Puke. But now normal service will continue and it’s a triumph for small town enterprise.

“It tells us localism is alive and well in Te Puke,” says Karen.

“We had to take a punt. NZ Post couldn’t wait any longer on us, we had to go ahead.”

So then, with the NZ Post deal done, the trust negotiated a short year-long lease with the building owners to keep the post office services in the current premises.

But the plan is still not cut and dried. After local people invested in keeping the Post Office services running, Te Puke Centre Trust still needs set-up money to get a new information and visitor centre operating alongside the postal services.

“We have applied for $15,000 from the community board. It has said ‘yes’ if council at least matches it in their annual plan. We will know next month.”

The NZ Post operation will be operated as part of a social enterprise that provides dividends back to the Trust to support Te Puke Centre operations. They include professional, neutral and shared space that supports the community and Te Puke industries, like the long-awaited information and visitor office and  co-working space.

It’s a kind of front door, a one stop shop for Te Puke residents and visitors, connecting people with social services and infrastructure.

Karen says the Te Puke Centre will be a strategic community asset.

“And so we must be sure of ongoing community and funder’s support, especially in the development phase," say Karen.

One of the big driving forces for the trust’s plan was something called “bumping space” in the centre of town.

“Somewhere people are familiar with, somewhere they could go and feel comfortable and recognised – bumping into someone they know.”

The Post Office is a social and functional outing for many.

The Post Office was never about to leave town, but it would have ended up in a book shop or a chemists.

“Our Te Puke Centre proposal also means we don’t end up with a big empty building in the centre of town.”

The Trust can’t quite fulfil its dream of moving into purpose-built premises.

”However the first year of operation will allow us to get the funding to finish building that dream – the board, the council, philanthropists and other key big funders.”

But things are moving in the right direction, says Karen, and it’s “terribly satisfying”.

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