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Source: Eastern Institute of Technology – Tairāwhiti

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The group from Ruatorea who travelled to Rotorua to do a full day of intensive training about using the new community portable mill bought by Hikurangi Enterprises. (Picture supplied )

An investment into a portable sawmill by Hikurangi Enterprises will open doors to housing on the East Coast.  

Hikurangi Enterprises is a one of a group of entities dedicated to regional economic development on the East Coast.  

Hikurangi Enterprises director Panapa Ehau says this is behind the decision to buy the WPF portable sawmill, now based in Ruatorea.  
“Hikurangi Enterprises was set up for the purpose of building and supporting commercial enterprises that create jobs and economic development in the Waiapu Valley and wider East Coast.  

“One of the largest barriers to this is access to affordable and healthy housing. This is a key need that requires attention.”  

The story behind the purchase of the mill goes back to when Panapa was working as a tutor for EIT Tairāwhiti. He set up the popular earth building courses that have been running for four years.  
“Using local and natural resources we have been developing affordable, accessible and healthy housing solutions.”  
Grant Steven has been the lead tutor for the course – making homes from local clay, sand and fibres such as pampas grass – which was becoming increasingly popular.  

From Northland, he brought his portable sawmill to mill timber from local trees for the framing of the earth houses.  “When we first started there were a couple of earth houses around Ruatorea and the 10m2 buildings that were built on the courses have futher normalised  this type of construction. Now there are around five.   
“We have been educating people that we can build out of natural resources like our ancestors did only a few generations ago.”  

Inspired by the tutor’s sawmill, the need for such infrastructure that was community accessible in the area was identified, says Panapa.  
“Having a sawmill allows us to mill our own timber – whanau have trees planted on whanau land 80-100 years ago that are ready for milling.”  

Housing conditions up the coast are bad, he says.  
“No Government has done much to help this situation but the reality is isolated communities need to develop and lead solutions.”  

Since the Covid 19 pandemic, more people are returning home.  “We know they are coming home and know more people want to but the housing situation does not allow that. We need to develop capacity within the community.”  The new mill is now with kaitiaki (caretakers or guardians) and the community will be able to access it.  
EIT Tairāwhiti has agreed to provide funding from its Adult Community Education (ACE) fund for support, training people to use the mill.  

One group has attended a course at Peterson Sawmilling in Rotorua, where the mill was bought from and is ready to pass on skills.  

EIT Tairāwhiti Ruatorea campus tutor Rob Thomson said the new mill will create jobs for local whanau within the community.  

“Timber can be used to build affordable houses on their whenua. The offcuts will be used as firewood for whanau in cold/damp living spaces.” 

He said the crew of 12 from Ruatorea, most ex-students of EIT, who went to Rotorua, have learned skills of how to set up and use the sawmill properly as well as health and safety aspects of running it outside and in isolated areas. We are very thankful to Hikurangi Enterprises and EIT for giving us this opportunity to make this happen, uplift our people and communities along the East Coast,” he said. EIT Tairāwhiti ACE coordinator Sue Matthews is rapt with the sawmill news.  
“There is overwhelming interest from people wanting to learn and it is a very valuable asset for the community. We are trying to get more courses going especially in rural and isolated areas to bring communities together. It is really exciting.”