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Putting Rotorua Locals In the Driver's Seat

Putting Rotorua Locals In the Driver's Seat

No matter our background, physical or mental capabilities, we all want to feel as though we ‘belong’ within our community.

Rotorua’s Te Aratu Trust has been helping people with mental and intellectual disabilities do exactly that for over 20 years. They run a wide range of day programmes to help people develop life skills, employment skills and the ability to move towards independent living. Getting involved in community clubs and activities is another important focus to help avoid social isolation, says Trust Manager Lindsay Harper.

“It’s about having a good quality of life and we try to identify with the client themselves what that looks like for them. Because people have different ideas, of course, of what a good quality of life is. It’s not the same for everybody. And obviously it’s got to be within their own individual capabilities.

“Some people want to find paid work. Others want to do volunteer work or participate in a sport or club. Obviously with regard to living situations, the more independence people have, the more control they have over their lives. So we run a lot of our programmes based around the life skills required for that and we’ve had quite a few people who have made the transition out of residential care into their own flats as a result.”

The Road To Independence

Obtaining a driver’s license is another key life skill which people with disabilities or long-term mental health issues can find nearly impossible to achieve.

Lindsay says the practical driving test has become much harder in recent years and it’s not uncommon for ordinary Kiwis to fail and re-sit it multiple times. Professional driving lessons are almost a ‘must’ these days but if you’re on a sickness benefit it’s very difficult to afford.

“Getting a driver’s licence is a massive achievement for any New Zealander. And for people with disabilities it’s just that much harder. It’s financially impossible really, for somebody on a benefit now to actually go through the process because the costs are so high.”

Many of Te Aratu Trust’s clients do not have access to a car so the Trust runs its own driving programme – providing a vehicle, free petrol and a professional instructor for one 45 minute lesson a week for up to 10 different people – to enable them to gain their driver’s licence and the freedom that comes with it.

“It’s a huge challenge for our people. We had one guy with an intellectual disability, about 19 or 20 years of age, and it took him three years. It was a very long slow process to get him to the skill level to sit and pass the test but he’s gone through from his learner's, to his restricted and then onto his full licence and now has his own car. That opens up opportunities for him for his future that he would never have had otherwise. It’s a very valuable programme.”

Lindsay acknowledges that it takes much longer for the Trust’s clients to pass their license compared to the average New Zealander. But none of them have ever had a car crash. “Anybody who can pass that test deserves to be able to drive. It’s such a hard test.”

Fuelling Up for 2021

BayTrust has granted $5000 towards the Trust’s driving programme for 2021 – money which Lindsay is extremely grateful for.

“It’s fantastic BayTrust has come on board to support us. It makes such a big difference in people’s lives and it’s such a worthwhile thing.

“I was stressing a little bit about whether we could run a full programme this year or if we would need to cut things down a little bit… but the demand’s there. As soon as somebody passes their license and are out of our programme, somebody else’s in it.”

Other funders including Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust also contribute towards the Trust’s driving programme and professional lessons.

“I’m hoping with this extra funding we can now do the full 12 months. It will help pay for all the mileage because we do approximately 180km of driving instruction each week. That’s a lot of petrol.”

Community Support

With up to 25 different programmes on offer, Te Aratu Trust supports between 65 and 75 Rotorua locals at any given time. Some will access their social support for a few months, while others will be with them for many years.

“Our ultimate goal is not to be needed,” Lindsay says. “We want to see people go on to work and be involved in things out in the community… when they have met other people and built relationships and don’t need us anymore, that’s fantastic.”