You are currently viewing Serving the community on farm and bush
Onya community award recipient Neil Gray is a founding member of the Haurakian Charitable Trust. Photo: GORDON PREECE

Serving the community on farm and bush

A week-long search for a missing British tramper is one call-out Neil Gray will never forget during his time as a volunteer with Thames LandSAR.
Neil is a recent recipient of a Hauraki District Council Onya Award for his community service with Thames Land Search and Rescue (LandSAR) and as a founding member of the Haurakian Charitable Trust.
His community service includes 20 years of tracking down the lost and injured as a Thames LandSAR volunteer.
“I joined because I was a Scout leader at the time and wanted to learn more map and compass skills to pass on to the kids,” he said.
“Then a good friend of mine who was involved in Land Search and Rescue asked me to come along to one of their sessions and I’ve been hooked ever since.
“The reactions we get from people whose loved ones we’ve helped is unbelievable.”
One of Neil’s most vivid memories from LandSAR was in 2006, when he and more than 100 others spent seven days searching the Moss Creek area of the Coromandel Forest Park for missing British tramper, Robert Atkin.
“Unfortunately he died in that environment, which was very tragic, so that’s one search which really sticks in my memory,” he said.
“Then around three years ago, Robert’s family contacted our group and said they would like to make a donation.
“I took that on with a group of others to utilise that donation as a memorial for Robert, so we made a bench seat with a plaque and a safety message board which was quite special.”
The bench seat now sits at the Pinnacles Hut, along with safety information for hikers and trampers exploring the area.
Neil’s other main community service passion is for the Haurakian Charitable Trust, which he and a group of others helped establish in 2004.
“I was approached by Gill Leonard about this concept of a trust to support Hauraki
Plains College and make it an attractive college for future students,” he said.
“That just clicked with me because I’ve always had a view

that if your school is strong your community’s strong,” he said.
“We identified Hayward’s farm as a good fit and approached the owner, other farming families and Hauraki District Council for financial support, which then allowed us to get the farm up and running in 2006 with the farm’s profits going towards the college.”
Neil said the college used the Kaihere Rd farm for students’ agricultural learning as part of their curriculum.
“When we bought the farm, we didn’t see that happening, so that’s been a real highlight.
“They’ve now got a whole raft of primary industry facilities they can use to develop their skills, which has made it a great asset for the college,” he said.
“Over 14 years, the trust has increased its capital base and we donate $20,000 plus annually to Hauraki Plains College to provide them with extra services, support, infrastructure and resources.”
Neil said the trust had since sold Hayward’s farm as lifestyle blocks, with the trust still retaining a block of land leased by the college for the students to continue learning primary industry skills.
This allowed the trust to purchase another farm in Waitakaruru in June last year, increasing the amount of land used by the trust to support their strategy of supporting the college.
Neil is also involved with the P3 Dairy Trust, which supports farming on the Hauraki Plains, and he also co-owns Buttercup Dairies on Hauraki Rd in Turua with his wife Glenda.
Council’s Onya award acknowledges individuals who make a positive difference to their community through dedication and community spirit.
Neil said when he received the letter informing him he’d been awarded the Onya award, he said: “Who the hell set me up for that?”
“I go about doing my stuff and not really think about receiving any recognition, so to get it was initially quite humbling,” he said.
“Then the more I thought about it, I realised it’s actually quite an honour because I’ve been to previous awards and seen the calibre of people who get recognised.”
His desire to serve the community stemmed from his family connection to the Hauraki district and his agricultural roots, he said.
“Being an agricultural-based area, there’s always been an ethic of working together and helping others.
“That’s one of the things I like about our community and it makes it easy to be involved in community work.”
Neil said he was quite happy to continue with Thames LandSAR but said there would be a time for fresh blood to come through the Haurakian Charitable Trust.
“I really enjoy both roles, but with an organisation like a charitable trust, it’s appropriate to allow more people to develop their leadership skills,” he said.
“One of the legacies I’d love to leave with the trust is to try and make a bit more of a connection with the community and the college because it’s not just the teachers raising the kids nowadays, it’s the whole community.”