Pay It Forward

I’m Ginny, the Manager and New Projects Worker for Neighbourhood Trust (NHT), a charitable trust set up in 1999. The whole idea of Pay It Forward had been whispering to me for a long time – around 18 months before doing much about it. It was a concept of having a range of activities operating from one site that would increase the well-being of the community, as well as foster a sense of generosity and encourage creativity.

The start was a combination of factors. I’d done quite a bit of research around social enterprise – businesses set up with a social purpose and there were lots of vacant shops in the Mairehau area attracting graffiti and starting to look really run-down. Being faith-based, I felt it was a God nudge to have a base in the heart of Mairehau, but didn’t have a clue what form that would take. One of the shops had once been a second-hand book store, owned by an older man and when he fell ill, he just closed it down.  People in the community had missed it, so second-hand books and promoting a love of learning was the start point. But I knew there was much more to the project.

I noticed all the craft markets going on and the lack of a base for Canterbury crafts people with the Arts Centre not able to be used. It was natural to talk with Hazel about the possibility of creating a hub and retail outlet for artisans. From there it kind of snow-balled as the first query put on her website had a host of replies and lots of enthusiasm for the idea.

As well as the retail side of things, there was a need to rebuild the sense of community in this suburb, which had been torn apart by the earthquakes and school closures. I saw Pay It Forward as becoming a meeting place for people, where they could browse at leisure, use the shop as a base for walking groups, learn new crafts, have discussion groups on special interest areas and be a place to swap resources and skills.

At the same time Council had recognised the lack of community meeting places in Mairehau and supported the project with a grant from their Endowment Fund. This gave the confidence to look at purchasing one of the shops. We took out a lease on a corner shop, with SeniorNet (who teach new technologies to older adults) coming on board as partners and using the back part of the shop, while we set up a pilot project shop in the front part. There is also a children’s books swap box out front and it is delightful to see children stop and take a book and the surprise from their parents that they are free. We’d love some more donations into the box as they disappear quite quickly.

We love the name 'Pay It Forward', we're all aware of the concept, but why this name for the store? The idea for the name came from the sense of a place where people would share what they had to offer with others, a place of warmth and welcome. A place where crafts people learn from each other, with knowledge and expertise shared. A place where others can learn new skills and pass them on to others. A place to give in to (children’s books, produce) - to experience the ‘buzz’ of giving without expecting something back. 

Each of us have people in our lives who have given to us freely – of time, money, resources, gifts that made us feel good when we were down. We may never be able to pay them back but know that they would be happy that we had passed on this good fortune to others. That we are prepared to listen to the story of someone who needs to be heard; to share a book with a child who might not otherwise have books; to share knowledge and expertise and pass on the love of making something ourselves.

It’s a statement against our ‘me first’ world of consumerism and is a reminder that we live in a community and each of us are affected by the acts of others.

How does the store work? The store is a co-operative that houses 21 artisans, with currently 19 inquiries from potential new crafters. Each brings skills and expertise in different areas with them, so there is an amazing buzz in the room when meetings are held. Commission is charged on sales and this helps to pay the bills and bring resources into the shop. The commission is based on the number of hours the person contributes into the running of the project, whether it is working in the shop or helping with advertising, Facebook page, delivering flyers, processing new artisans or doing displays. The project remains under the Neighbourhood Trust umbrella, so any surplus goes back into the community.

How can artisans get involved with the store? As we have a large number of people already involved, the group decided to set up a curator’s panel, which meets every couple of months or so. We have an application form that newcomers can fill out and then we ask them to bring in a few samples of their work for the curators to view. There is a matrix of criteria and a rating system to try to maintain a fair process. The current shop is small and even when we move we won’t have heaps of room, so the curators have to be discerning around what fits in with the style of the shop and what will complement the current items on offer, as well as having got a feel for what sells best through this outlet. If they give a ‘no’ it therefore doesn’t reflect on quality or even attractiveness of the product. Having said this, we love to see new creations and welcome newcomers. You can pick up an application form from Pay It Forward (cnr Nancy Ave and Weston Road), or email or inquire through the website

Because the store is a co-operative, the artisans have the opportunity to make decisions around every element of the store. It’s their place, but without the huge overheads that normally apply to running a shop. And they have support from day one from their peers.  If they have questions around for example, tax law, they can ask another crafter who is also a chartered accountant. If they have questions around branding, one of the crafters is a graphic designer. There’s also a mix of people who have been creating their craft for a long time and have developed it into a substantial business and those who are just starting out. There’s a generosity in those who have worked through different issues that come up when you are creating objects for sale, being willing to pass on what they have learned, so there is a coaching element. It can be as simple as where’s the best place to purchase boxes for packaging.

We have a ‘secret’ Facebook page for discussions, questions and formulating policies and ways of working together.

It’s exciting because it’s still in the formative stage. Artisans have the ability to feed in ideas about how the new shop might look and what services it might provide. And they know they are backed 100% by NHT. It’s also stimulating, as this is a new concept – having social services alongside a retail outlet, so we are all learning as we go.

Where to next for Pay It Forward? Earlier this year, we purchased a bigger shop two doors down from the current pilot project, but didn’t immediately have the resources to be able to develop it. A grant from The Canterbury Community Trust Social Enterprise Fund has made it possible to set in place plans to turn this into both a larger retail outlet and a meeting/learning place. There’ll also be computers set up with internet access and assistance for those who need it, a mail-drop box for people in transitional accommodation and an automated coffee and hot chocolate machine. We believe it will become a destination shop, where people will hang around for a bit and enjoy the atmosphere. We’re excited to be at the stage where work will begin on alterations and Pay It Forward can expand.

We also spoke with a couple of the artisans themselves about Pay It Forward, this is what they had to say. 

Kirstee from Hibiscus, why did you decide to get involved in Pay It Forward? When I answered the call for Pay It Forward applications, I was fairly new to the Christchurch indie design scene, and I was really focused on getting feet in doors and fingers in pies, so to speak. I pretty much jumped on into anything that came my way, and the results of the frightfully busy six months that followed have catapulted me into 2014 with great gusto and a gargantuan appetite for more.

What is the best bit about being involved in the co-op? I've said this before, and I'll say it again. It's the gathering together. Gathering of amazing talent and fruitful minds, all focused on one, ultimate goal. By each individual bringing independent dreams, significance and ideas and by releasing them into the encompassing support of the Pay It Forward pot, the soup which has evolved in these last seven months is one of spirit, zest and soul. Pay It Forward is not only a gorgeous little shop on a quiet suburban corner in Christchurch, it is that courage, inspiration and love of the thirty four faces behind it. Co operative. It's an outrageously uplifting place to be.

Koral from Handled with Care, why did you decide to get involved in Pay It Forward? I decided to get involved as I had a window of opportunity whilst on maternity leave. It allowed me space to be more creative, and this also provided a good artistic outlet whilst juggling my gorgeous baby boy.

What is the best bit about being involved in the co-op? As a new addition to the group, I am learning the benefits of being part of the Pay It Forward co-op as I go! It was great to attend my first committee meeting last week and put a number of faces to the names I was aware of, and see the amazing insight and vision that the group has for expanding the brand. This is the first time I have sold products I've made, and it is great volunteering hours at the shop to meet your potential customers. I'm immensely enjoying it!

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