LAURA Neish is standing for the Opotiki District Council. Photo Sven Carlsson OS0124-01

OPOTIKI resident Laura Neish says it’s time that another voice is heard on the district council.

One that isn’t middle-aged or older, running a successful business, and living on the outskirts of town.

Ms Neish is a 28-year-old low-income earner who wants to bring diversity to the council and she also wants to increase voter participation, which now stands at 40 percent.

She was born in Hamilton, has a degree in primary school teaching, but decided she must “first find out about the world”.

“So I travelled in Europe, India and Indonesia,” she said. “I have taught as a relieving teacher.”

Ms Neish said she didn’t want to live in a big city and become embroiled in the compulsory rat race.

“Living in a smaller community is better, where you can achieve things,” she said. “If you live in a place above a certain size, then everything gets commercial.”

Ms Neish works at the Bridge Street Cafe and has a small gardening business.

She moved to Opotiki three years ago, after having visited here often.

“Opotiki is pretty special and a good place to have a family,” she said. “I want to have a garden and grow my own food, which I can share with neighbours.”

Ms Neish has been involved with the Opotiki community garden, plays netball and volunteers at Legenz Gym.

“I looked after a special needs guy from a private household for two years,” she said. “I have a really good feeling about Opotiki, that’s why I am here.”

Poverty was a challenge for many people in Opotiki.

“In town, the average earning is around $20,000 and we have one of the the highest rates,” Ms Neish said.

For some time, Ms Neish has been actively promoting hemp-based industries, such as hempcrete, which is a natural and sustainable insulation material.

“I’ve known about hemp for some time, but it was only after I got my internet connection that I could research it, network and learn more,” she said. “Now I can do something and there’s been lots of community engagement.”

Hemp would raise the standard of living, without relying on petroleum-based products.

“Hemp is another growing option, in addition to kiwifruit,” Ms Neish said.

She hopes that by being a councillor, she can help Opotiki build up regenerative industries.

“I want to inform about what a council does, which includes learning myself,” Ms Neish said. “I also want to promote community resilience, both in terms of emergencies such as a tsunami, but also around sharing food, hunting and shopping locally.”