How local community is shaping post-mining Reefton

Standing at the launch of the newly named ‘Golden Globe Theatre’ at the Reefton i-SITE Visitor Centre in early September 2020, local Socio-Economic Development Officer Rachel Fifield is among good company. Company that is as equally invested in the popular local attraction – and in other reinvigoration initiatives – as she is.

Rachel is responsible for supporting projects focused on creating an economically sustainable future for the small town, which up until 2016 when the Globe Progress Mine closed, has been mining its goldfields since the mid-1800s.

It’s no small feat, but only eight months into the role and Rachel is making significant headway.

It’s taken the right person, with vision and creativity, and an open, relationship-based approach to work productively alongside so many and varied stakeholders. Included is her employer, the Buller District Council, and global miner OceanaGold, which is funding her role for three years. And of course, there’s the local community who are, arguably, the most heavily invested in Reefton’s future.

Originally from Nelson, Rachel uprooted in 2018 and moved 2.5 hours south to Reefton. At the beginning of 2020 she participated in a ‘social experiment’ of sorts: to work alongside community, Council and OceanaGold to ensure the legacy left at the former mine (now called the Reefton Restoration Project) met community expectations.

“During production, mining companies naturally invest in the local economy by moving entire operations to town. They employ its people and use local contractors and suppliers…so when mining stops, ethically, you can’t just leave. You would leave a gaping hole, not only in the ground, but in the local market,” Rachel said.

“There’s a moral obligation – especially in small towns like Reefton – for that investment to continue, but we need look beyond direct employment and develop solutions that safeguard a more economically diverse future.”

And that is part of OceanaGold’s vision for Reefton and part of its commitment to sustainability.

“While equally as important, mine closure is not just about environmental rehabilitation and restoration,” Rachel said.

“Sustainable outcomes don’t end when mining stops, so my role is to work with the community to ensure their input shapes the future of Reefton. A big focus of my role and OceanaGold is to ensure the community is economically sustainable.”

“We have established an Economic Diversification Governance Board – with representatives from across local government, iwi, OceanaGold, business and the community – to facilitate and govern the funds provided by the company to ensure the town thrives long after it leaves.”

The Reefton i-Site’s ‘Golden Globe Theatre’ has been once such project. Employing two permanent and two casual staff, the centre provides the new boutique theatre and a unique, underground mining experience for visitors.

“Tourism is important to Reefton, but not only that, the i-Site captures and protects the town’s long mining history dating back to the 19th century.”

There have been other wins along the way where Rachel has linked community members to opportunities that help secure their futures. From travel funding grants for the local netball team, to new employment opportunities for people affected by recent COVID job losses, to expanding a local bee-keeper’s small business by linking him to OceanaGold’s extensive manuka varieties at Reefton.

Humbly, she explains: “My role is to connect people to the right resource, or person, so they can achieve their goals.”

It sounds simple, yet Rachel, who also runs a design studio in the heart of town and sits on the Inangahua Community Board, is consumed (happily) by community dropping in to share their ideas to secure the town’s future.

“Reefton is such a tight-knit community, which I’m so proud to now be a part of. You can see there’s a real energy in town because they have someone dedicated to helping them…OceanaGold made this possible.

“And yes, we’ve ticked off some of the initial projects, but this role hasn’t been done before and there’s so much scope to ensure we make a huge difference in the three years I’m employed.

“Together – Buller District Council, OceanaGold and the local community – we are truly paving the way for what’s possible in small towns after mining ends.

“I love Reefton and I’ve set myself some pretty big goals. Watch this space.”

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