People with disabilities are often excluded from social relationships, community participation, leisure activities and employment. They’re left feeling isolated with little opportunity to build independence, friendships and valuable life skills.
And with an estimated one quarter of New Zealanders having some form of disability, this is one of the most “overlooked” groups in society according to the Chrome Collective’s General Manager, Shelley Robinson.
The charitable trust helps immerse those with disabilities into the wider community by creating meaningful micro-businesses and offering vocational training and employment opportunities, as well as advocacy services.
“I’ve got a daughter who has a rare syndrome,” Shelley explains. “So that motivated me to launch the Chrome Collective in late 2020. I’ve been in the system for a very long time and I’m an ex-educator. I kept seeing all these people fall through the cracks once they leave school, and they just ended up sitting at home basically.
“I’ve worked with families for years and years and they need some hope. And it was actually quite therapeutic for me too, because I was pretty fed up with the whole system. I was just thinking ‘right, I’ve just got to do something about this’.”
Shelley originally started a café in Katikati with her sister and employed as many disabled staff as she could. “From there I opened the Chrome Collective and that was really about starting people into micro businesses because one of the biggest issues is lack of money. Most people with a disability are on some kind of benefit, and we all know that’s not enough money to live.”
The main goal is proper community integration so people with disabilities can fully participate in life at the same level as non-disabled individuals. The Chrome Collective offers a programme three days a week where disabled people come together to produce hand-made goods such as eco cleaning products, ceramic hearts, relishes and sweet treats which are then sold online (https://chromecollective.co.nz/shop/) or at local markets.
“We do a beautiful ham off the bone fresh roll which always sells out, and we do things like custard milk tarts for local markets in Katikati and Waihi Beach. I’d quite like to start going to big markets like the annual one in Taupo and taking our guys and having a social experience as well,” Shelly says.
Participants are also involved in running KaiGo, a community food rescue programme where they pick up surplus or unsold food from local supermarkets and re-distribute it to people in need. And in March 2024 the Chrome Collective will launch a six month pilot programme to run a new resource recovery centre in Katikati.
“It will create employment for those who want to help sort incoming donations of goods, and it will help save the planet. It will also generate another revenue stream which is important because people with disabilities don’t disappear. There’s an ongoing need.”
BayTrust has granted $30,000 to the Chrome Collective to help cover operating costs for the beginning of 2024. “It’s actually awesome. We’ve been really humbled by how supportive people have been of us,” Shelley says. “This grant means that we can still stay open basically. That’s what it boils down to.”
The Katikati-based organisation currently caters for around 50 people from Paeroa through to Tauranga, with plenty of interest and requests to expand elsewhere.
“We may start expanding slowly but it really comes down to having the appropriate staff and volunteers who are qualified, educated and passionate. You’ve got to have it in your soul. Families have to get behind it too.”
Shelley says many people underestimate what a disabled person is capable of achieving, and education remains a big focus for both individuals, their families and potential employers.
“You have to really extend people’s abilities and not block any effort that they want to make. It’s important not to do everything for them. We are there to enable some independence but with support. A lot of these people have had years and years of people telling them they can’t do something. When in actual fact they probably can. So that’s what it’s all about – enabling everyone to live the best lives that they possibly can.”