Whānau Power aims to help power poverty and whānau wellbeing

By James Perry

A new pilot project aimed at addressing power poverty will be launched in March, with hopes it will be rolled out nationwide, and whānau expected to benefit.

Whānau Power seeks to make it easier for vulnerable whanau to access cheaper, reliable power providers, while also aiming to help whānau build skillsets and employment capacities.

Cherie Tirikatene, founder of Whānau Power and SEED NZ chief executive says, “There are too many households that struggle to pay for their utilities. This could be whānau with young children, single-parent homes, kaumatua (elderly), or those living with disabilities or ill-health. We want to help them create positive change."

Tirikatene says power poverty often sees whanau left to choose between kai in the cupboards or keeping the lights turned on at home.

“From personal experience, I know what those things can look like. But that aside, it’s a basic human right and need for our whānau to have, I believe. Quality housing, electricity and digital capabilities like the internet. These are things that our whanau should just have.”

100 whānau for pilot

The initial pilot project, to be launched in Te Tai Rāwhiti and Christchurch, has 100 spaces available but Tirikatene and her team are hopeful that everyone who registers will eventually become part of Whānau Power once its success has been proven.

“One-third of New Zealand homes are damp and cold. Too many of our whānau are suffering from respiratory diseases that are directly linked to substandard housing. Too many whānau are trapped in a cold, vicious cycle and they are getting sick because of it. We want to help as we are the whānau we serve.”

She says the project has been modelled on the Whare Tapawhā framework created by Sir Mason Durie and looks to include full wrap-around services to address issues that lead to whanau living in cold, damp homes.

Whānau Power has gained support from other organisations and people helping whanau, such as Whare Hauora, which provides sensors that help determine if the home is making its occupants sick, Jade Temepara, who will help whanau with food sovereignty, and Housing First.

“Some of the whānau we will be having with our pilot will also be working with her [Temepara] about how to grow your own kai."

Partnerships

“Housing First has mental health nurses, the whole package. Partnering with that holistic approach just makes sense.

“Why would you try and do it by yourself when you don’t have the expertise, and these people have been doing it for many, many years," Tirikatene says.

The data gathered in the pilot will be kept encrypted and confidential but it will enable Whānau Power to highlight issues as they arise, where consent is given.

“By delivering a combination of direct interventions such as curtains, draft stoppers and insulation, plus education from our kaihāpai alongside steady power supply, the resulting data will provide valuable insights,” Tirikatene says.

Tirikatene has also held discussions with another well-known Māori energy provider, Nau Mai Rā, and says Whānau Power has adopted the Nau Mai Rā model.

She has negotiated with large power provider Meridian Energy to support the initiative. Meridian has agreed to not run credit checks on whānau using Whānau Power's services,  provided she secures funding support from the Ministry of Social Development.

Healthier conditions

The support of Meridian and MSD means whānau wholly on pre-paid power can still have access to a competitive market.

"If they're already connected, and it's not worth their while changing, we won't change them. But if they are on the pre-paid option and it is costing them a whole heap, Meridian has Powershop, which is really competitive.

"And we also have the option of going and connecting our whānau with Nau Mai Rā. 

"I said to Ez [Ezra Hirawini] we will never shut the door but we need to make sure it's the best thing for our whānau."

As a programme that sits under SEED NZ, a cooperative community development programme that helps communities improve their own quality of life, Tirikatene says it is also hoped that whanau who use Whānau Power can live in healthier conditions that could lead to better opportunities outside the house.

“We want to be able to not just say 'yeah, we’re keeping your home healthy because we’ve got these curtains in,' we want to know have your tamariki been able to go to school more because they’re healthier and they’re not coughing as much.”

Whānau Power, an idea Tirikatene has been developing for more than two years has attracted support from the likes of Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipōunamu,  and government agencies such as Te Puni Kōkiri, MBIE and other partners.

While Tirikatene says she isn’t scared to fail, she is confident the programme won’t and is hopeful it will be rolled out nationwide following the one-year-long pilot programme that begins in March.