Levin families bring love to a bare park

There isn’t a lot to love about Lincoln Park Reserve in Levin, but a group of families is dreaming big and plans to transform the small neighbourhood park into a proud and safe place for locals.

People attending a community hui in February to share ideas for a better space had to abandon the park at the last minute because of a shooting in the area, but that didn’t stop 35 people moving to the local library to discuss – and sketch – their ideas.

The move to make lives better for Horowhenua families struggling with disability started by asking the families what they needed. This community co-design approach has begun to have an impact on holiday and afterschool care, on jobs and on facilities for young people.

IHC launched the project 18 months ago to explore ways to provide family support and respite, funded by the IHC Foundation. In January last year Horowhenua IHC Family Whānau Liaison Suzanne Downes and community co-design specialist Elizabeth Goodwin of Connect+Co interviewed families caring for people with intellectual disabilities to see where the gaps and pressure points were.

“We pulled out the insights and then teased out the broader themes,” Suzanne says. The result has been the ‘Levinable’ project. One by one, the issues raised by families are being ticked off as people and local groups and organisations connect to codesign their community.

Suzanne says providing before and after-school care and school holiday programmes is critical to giving families a break and enabling parents to hold down jobs. She worked with local childcare organisation Bounce Out of School Care to boost staff numbers to offer more places for children with intellectual disabilities. Last year Bounce received a grant of $38,000 from the Zena Elsie Orr Trust to increase staffing to support more children with intellectual disabilities. The trust was formed with a bequest to IHC from Zena Orr’s sister to provide respite for families.

Support is happening at an informal level too as parents support each other through time-banking. Suzanne says one mother was struggling to collect her child from school each day. Another mother offered to take him home to her place to play with her little boy until he could be collected. In return this woman is now having her lawns cut by the family she has helped. “It’s an informal contract,” Suzanne says. “And they have become friends.”

Levinable also works through local organisations to find employment opportunities for disabled young people. “We have tapped into what is provided through the Horowhenua Learning Centre and the local Muaūpoko Tribal Authority.”

The latest initiative to redevelop Lincoln Park Reserve came after families caring for young disabled children said they needed somewhere safe for their children to play. Horowhenua District Council proposed the reserve as an ideal spot and a Council ‘Vibrant Communities’ grant of $4500 has kick-started the project. The Muaūpoko Tribal Authority is backing the idea, along with Pasifika for Tomorrow.

The recent community hui was facilitated by Robin Christie of Childspace, a specialist in designing play spaces for children. Robin is now collating feedback from the hui to produce a prototype design for Lincoln Park Reserve to discuss with participants. IHC has four Family-Whānau Liaison staff working with families throughout New Zealand, from Northland to Otago.


Sharing the love – community hui participants work on designs for a revamped Lincoln Park Reserve.


This story was published in Community Moves. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members.

Read the full issue of Community Moves online here.