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Hospo Couple now in Hort

16 Jul 2020

Hospo Couple now in Hort

redep couple NR

When COVID-19 struck, Joana Devine and Fraser Brown were happily ensconced in the Melbourne hospitality scene – both had jobs in top establishments, they’d just signed a year lease on an apartment and were filling it with all their ‘perfect’ bits and pieces.

It seems a far cry from where they are now but they’re philosophical about having the rug pulled out from under their feet and grateful to be in Gisborne with family.

The couple who typically work alongside each other in the hospitality industry as a chef and front of house combo are now part of the Tairāwhiti Economic Support Package Redeployment Programme, working together – again – in the kaitiaki project.

It is nothing new to Joana who is a qualified horticulturist but has more recently been working as a chef. “Gardening was my first job as a 14-year-old so I feel I have done a full circle,” she says.

While in their mandatory two-week quarantine in Auckland in early June they hit the web, signing up with the Ministry of Social Development and scoping jobs. Both applied for the kaitiaki project, keen to work, gain new skills and gather qualifications. “We realised we were at the beginning of a wave of unemployment as some of the first out after being given the chop,” says Fraser a Scottish Kiwi.

Once back in Gisborne they bought a bell tent, kitted it out and are living off the grid on Papakainga family land at Mangatu. “It’s glamping at its best,” says Joana. “We always talked about living off grid but didn’t think it would be this soon!”

Fraser says it shows how quickly things can change. “Whatever plans you have can so easily be cast aside,” he says. “We are very lucky to be here in New Zealand, and particularly Gisborne where normal everyday life is functioning.”

Joana and Fraser are loving the diversity their work brings – from dune planting to nursery work, study and more. Their studies have included first aid training, effective communication, hazard control, and health and safety, with traffic control and GrowSafe coming soon.

“It is so nice to be learning new things like this,” says Fraser. Joana feels the new qualifications could so easily be the difference between getting a new job or not. “It could just be the edge we need. With everything happening so quickly this is enjoyable to retrain, refresh and redirect our energy.”

They are also enjoying the diversity of their kaitiaki project team. “It is a real melting pot of young and old and there is always a conversation going on about something that we can learn from. It is a great team to be a part of. The work certainly brings with it a different level of pressure and stress than the hospitality world.”

Joana is thriving on her return to horticulture. “As a chef you are working with a finite product as opposed to the garden where you nurture something living that brings aesthetic value to yourself and others,” she says.

They’d both love to continue in horticultural work but say with the world changing so much, so quickly, it is hard to know what the future will hold.

The $23.755m Redeployment Programme is in response to the impacts of COVID-19, aiming to provide work and training for up to 200 people. It is funded through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, administered by the Provincial Development Unit and overseen by Gisborne District Council. The bigger goal for those on the programme is to help them find work in the short term, while learning new skills, and qualifications, with the opportunity of meaningful, long term employment.