Less stress for ‘Clutha kids with happy feet

CAPTION: Clutha Budget Advisory Service recently won a Clutha District Council Community Award for the Happy Feet project. Pictured from left: Volunteer Lee Ollerenshaw and Service Coordinator Lee-Anne Michelle

It’s a case of the shoe fitting for kids in Balclutha who have been given new school shoes this year to support struggling whānau to make sure they can go to school.

Clutha Budget Advisory Service covers the entire Clutha District (including seven small towns) and has been supporting the community since 1993.  This is a large geographical area with up to a 40 minute drive between Balclutha and the furthest away town, Lawrence.

Service Coordinator Lee-Anne Michelle is their sole financial mentor and has been in the role for 12 years. They’ve recently brought on a part-timer, Amy Senada, to coordinate the new banking project.  Along with a very dedicated volunteer, Lee Ollerenshaw, who has been helping out for the last seven years doing everything from reception to admin, Clutha Budget Advisory Service is a small team doing some big work.

Lee-Anne says they’ve been able to give 54 pairs of shoes to children in need this year through their new initiative Happy Feet.

This started because they saw clients and other people in the community who weren’t always able to send their kids to school as they didn’t have the right shoes or any school shoes at all.

Often the parents would need to wait until pay day to get new shoes if they could.

The shoes purchased were usually very cheap, poor quality shoes which wouldn’t go the distance and a month later the same thing would happen as the shoes would “fall apart”.

“We had it happen several times with the same family and after talking to other social service agencies and schools we realised this was quite a widespread issue,” says Lee-Anne.

The service managed to get some initial funding from the Clutha Foundation before they went out to schools and social services to let them know what they were doing.

As a result, 40 pairs of shoes were given to kids in need in January – just in time for the new school year.

The kids are either given the new shoes or they’re given a voucher for Number One Shoes so they can pick out their own.

However, with the nearest store about an hour away in Dunedin it’s still far from a perfect system (which they’re working on).

“We just had a boy in this morning with his new pair of shoes and he was pretty excited,” says Lee-Anne. “We’ve had a lot of feedback and they love it. It’s been really cool.”

Following on from the success of this year, Lee-Anne says they’re planning to expand the criteria for things like sports shoes and to ensure high school kids are getting high quality shoes to last.

Most of the whānau using Happy Feet are already working with the financial mentoring service or are referred by other agencies – including the public health nurse.

And they’ve had some incredible feedback from those they’ve helped.

“It was very helpful with two children going to high school.  It took a bit of the stress away with getting them ready for the start of the year,” said one parent.

“I was able to buy shoes for three kids, meaning I could use the money we needed for shoes towards other start of school things like stationery and lunchbox fillers,” said another.

The extra mile

School kids aren’t the only ones facing hardship in the depths of Balclutha.

Lee-Anne says they have seen a number of seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands who have been accessing the service for Financial Mentoring, due to falling behind with loans and struggling to buy food during the off-season.

In response the Clutha service are planning on running some Pasifika money mates groups which will focus on debt and borrowing, budgeting for the off-season, and planning for the future. Buying a house has been identified as a longer term goal by some of these clients and they are keen to know what they need to do to achieve this.

The elderly are another group who are facing barriers in the region – particularly with a lack of public transport and the ongoing closures of local bank branches.

There is no public transport in the district, although a new taxi service has just been restarted in Balclutha.

“People can’t get where they need to be. If they have appointments at Dunedin at the hospital, or they have appointments in Invercargill – they’ve started sending people there for appointments – there’s no way to get there unless you’ve got someone to take you,” says Lee-Anne.

“There’s people here that have no transport, and they have never been able to take their kids to the beach – it’s a 10-minute drive away. It’s sad.

“There are so many choices that are taken away when you don’t have your own vehicle.

”There’s only one major supermarket in town, but this will soon be joined by another which will hopefully make the price of food more competitive.   For some it is a 40 minute drive to access a supermarket in Balclutha or Mosgiel.

The service is also supported by KiwiHarvest – a charity which collects surplus and donated food to distribute to communities in need. This complements the food parcels they regularly give out.

“We never know what’s coming,” says Lee-Anne. “It’s really exciting, we love it. We hear the truck coming in and it’s like ‘what’s coming in today?’ We have a volunteer who comes in to help.”

Banks have been closing their branches in recent years which has caused some stress for people.

However, the service has employed a new part timer, who coincidentally is the same person who volunteers with the KiwiHarvest deliveries, to help people with banking services.

The service successfully applied for funding from FinCap to get the project up and running through their partnership with the New Zealand Banker’s Association (NZBA).

“Because there are so few banks here (only two part-time branches remain in the whole District), everyone has to do banking online or over the phone so if you struggle with those things then it’s hard to access financial services,” says Lee-Anne.

Amy Senada, who has the role of Banking Services Coordinator, travels around the District to raise awareness of the service and with her background working in banks, can give practical banking support. She also takes referrals and will go and visit those who need it.

This may be setting up online or phone banking or teaching people how to pay bills online.

While she can’t help with actual banking queries, Amy provides a safe place people can go to with questions and step-by-step guidance.

It’s taken a long time for the service to build this trust in their community, according to Lee-Anne.

“The local knowledge and the local connections are what makes our service.

“People find it hard that they go to places and they get told no, or we can’t help you and pushed away whereas we don’t do that at all,” she says.

“If people come here, we will find a way to help them or at least find where they need to be if we can’t help them. We will go that extra mile to find out what support they need”.  Lee-Anne is based in Balclutha, and also works one day a week in Milton and travels throughout the Clutha District to provide financial mentoring wherever it is needed.

If you or anybody you know needs more support with personal finances, you can get in touch with Clutha Budget Advisory Service on 03 418 0463.

If you’re outside the region, you can call our MoneyTalks helpline on 0800 345 123.

Clutha Budget Advisory Service works in partnership with Family Works Otago.