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Rachel’s Story

Growing up in Te Atatu South, Rachel Langton was no stranger to families struggling with unemployment, or the fragmenting impact on communities of poverty and mental health issues.

But it was a six-month hiatus during her uni days that really shaped her views on how communities can meet the needs of the disadvantaged among them.

Rachel was snowboarding in Lake Tahoe, California, during a summer break when a Kiwi friend suggested she join her at the Dream Center, a faith-based welfare organisation based in LA. So that’s what she did. Rachel flew to LA and together they signed on for a six-month internship. In return for food and accommodation they got to cook for and distribute food to people living on the streets.

‘You start to see that the journey from being in a job and being quite settled in their lives to being on the streets is really short, in some cases,’ Rachel says. ‘You’d have rats under your feet and there’d be drug deals going on up and down the street, but you’d have these wonderful conversations with these people.

‘A lot of them had doctorates, had very successful former lives, but the journey that had brought them to where they were was often because of a breakdown of community and relationships—and often mental health.

‘I came away from the experience believing community is so important, as is social fabric. The answer isn’t necessarily a pay check, it’s more than that. Money is an issue, but it’s more than that.’

Rachel’s uni days were formative for other reasons too. She completed a law degree and practised corporate law, then eventually landed in employment law, in which she still consults. She also met husband Greg, whose family was based in east Auckland. They decided to somewhere in between both families, which is how they came to set up house close to the hood.

In 2013, Rachel ran for Albert-Eden Local Board, ostensibly to put her ideas of community into practice. She still attributes her time at the Dream Center, as well as a youth growing up in a Te Atatu church, as key to those ideas.

‘I had a lot of freedom growing up,’ Rachel says. ‘I used to ride my bike from Te Atatu Road to Ranui, where my aunty was—when I was eight or nine years old. I’m not sure my parents were particularly liberal but you’d never let your children do that these days.

‘There’s a part of me that thinks, when I make decisions at board, what sort of community do I want my kids to grow up in. I don’t want them to be scared, I want there to be a freedom. I want them to be independent, strong children, who give back to society, but also don’t feel afraid.

‘I like the idea of walking to school, I like the idea of getting to know my neighbours—that if there was anything wrong or anything happened my kids could go next door and talk to the neighbours.

‘It can be very difficult to actually put those principles into action. But then whenever I make decisions for the local board I try to keep these things at the forefront of my mind and just do what I can to make it a more community oriented place.’

Speaking of kids, Rachel and Greg now have three—Fletcher (5), Florence (1) and Dominic (two months). Florence attended board meetings with Rachel until she was six months old, but Dominic is a little more boisterous—but he does sit in when Rachel skypes into meetings from home.

‘I’m not the only mum that’s been on the local board doing it. There’s a few other local boards who have mums around—and you know, some days work and some days don’t work so well. I’m trying to figure it out.’

In terms of what’s happening in Morningside, Rachel sees a lot of resonance with her ideas of how a community can flourish and care for its own. She’s been coming to Crave for years and was a school mate of Dr Jared Noel, one of the original members of the Crave collective. Jared died four years ago after a long and well-publicised battle with bowel cancer.

‘I love what Crave is doing because it is exactly what we were trying to do over there in LA—breaking down invisible barriers. If we can reclaim our communities and get to know our neighbours then a lot of these social ills that we have and which seem so hopeless, might be broken down.

‘It just needs to start with one or two people, then maybe one or two people more. When these guys got together, it would have taken a big commitment. It would have been hard—taking out a place, making it into a cafe, taking a risk. It’s not just about being in the community, it’s the commitment behind it.’