Yvonne Powley, Ruth Greenaway, Megan Hutching and Richard Howard. (2016) My Story Your Story Together Builds Communities; Ko aku korero ko au koero Ka whakamana te kotahitanga o te hapori: Auckland’s North Shore; Te Raki Paewhenua. Auckland North Community and Development Inc. New Zealand.

Reviewed by Phil Harington; School of Counselling Human Services and Social Work, Faculty of EdSW, UoA.

It’s a joy to contemplate a book, a record, an acknowledgement, a history like this. It is a grand project executed with grand style. Awesome that people with a story to tell find the time to undertake such a solid effort to not just publish a record of achievement and influence but also an acknowledgement of the immense collective of people and spirit that went into making it all. Kiwis are supposed to be too reserved for this bold and out there form of celebration. We will have a scone and a cuppa or maybe give a gong or a farewell bunch of flowers but we are coy about detailing the effort and reluctant to beg penetrative questions about what all this going on means. ‘My Story, Your Story; Building Communities Together’ makes a tohunga of the biography and imagination of the people who developed and continue to extend the notion of community on the North Shore.

Becoming the North Shore could never be assumed.

The separate parts, localities, histories and identities needed champions willing to build a canopy of vibrant strengths from their many grassroots. This volume has done a wonderful job of telling the story with both photographs and strong readable material that becomes way more than the sum of its parts. I can refer students to this text to explore the theory and practice of community development and indeed of a community’s development. We must thank everyone involved for what they have created here.

This is not however a usual textbook. It is located in land and its people. They came to the setting and understood a notion of citizenship. Acknowledged here are the personal and colloquial stories of how things came to pass. How connections were built and then pushed on as the early steps became reason to take larger strides. This is not a tool kit although remarkably and with justification you can see how a ‘North Shore Model’ of community development emerged and took hold with both theory and strategy. It was always the product of individuals acting with initiative and a willingness to collaborate. It linked across neighbourhoods, patterns of settlement, levels of resources and a wide range of knowledge to find ways to do place making and then more. The editors have honoured the legacy of community builders on the North Shore who made a huge contribution through an era when the North Shore was a city unto itself to today where the Shore has a vibrant stature as part of a supercity.

There is a strong sense of transformation here and a reader quickly becomes aware that the emergence of a community was never left to chance. There were people keen to step up. They could imagine a place, a setting, ultimately networks and relationships that could be created with patience and resilience. There needed to be leadership and dispute resolution. Their activity shaped and nurtured organisations to deliver services even before they had any certainty of funding or continuity. People transitioned from being participants to being advocates and managers. They recognised the value of an active community and could see settings and circumstances where people needed to be included, not left out. There were many who could innovate where young families, new mothers, new citizens, young people, neglected neighbourhoods needed effective support. They pushed the scope for responses and raised both public awareness and the funds for action. Some challenged the orthodoxy and as a result we have an organisation like the Auckland North Community and Development Inc, who have seen the value in documenting a collection of this kind.

There is another charm in this collection; you tend to read on from what your eye catches. You find surprises in details and insights and it’s a credit to the writing and formatting that the pages just turn over and hold your attention. You find you have spent longer browsing than you might ever have spent close reading. Quite soon you are cross referencing a point with another observation made earlier on. By its commitment to tell the stories of activity and achievement this is a volume that gets you thinking. In a longer overview of the material included here one might consider how these biographies show affinities or differences. Clearly gender, age, ethnicity, the values of social justice have been elements in the mix of participation. Why the notion of community development was distinct on the North Shore in comparison to elsewhere could be explored from here or we might ask how development transforms communities with diverse assets and strengths. Indeed how does civic society work? In these few words I want to congratulate Yvonne Powley and the team that has put this together and thank them for giving us a local resource to guide more effort.

The book can be ordered here.