Funding of $1.5 million from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) through the Provincial Growth Fund has been used around our region to re-deploy workers displaced by the response to COVID-19.

Of the funding, $1 million was earmarked for removing trees and other rural roadside hazards, with $500,000 allocated to improving roadside drainage to reduce surface flooding.

As well as using existing databases to identify hazardous trees on rural roads, residents were also asked to nominate trees to be assessed. Trees were removed from 144 locations around the District. Where possible, the wood was collected and stockpiled. It will be cut into firewood, and distributed to families in need with the help of the Fifeshire Foundation and Mohua Social Services.

This initiative created employment for 14 staff who had lost their jobs due to the effects of Covid-19. They came from a wide range of backgrounds, from kayak guides to retail sales staff but all adapted well to their new work.

As part of the project, new staff completed Downer’s five-day Road Ready course, teaching them skills in traffic control, vehicle training and safety around construction sites. These skills will be valuable if they seek other roles in the roading or construction industries in future.

Project Manager Graham Rimmer says, “It’s been a very successful initiative all-round. We’ve introduced people to new career options and improved conditions on our rural roads. Being able to share free firewood with families who really need it is another really nice outcome from the project.”