Connect South faces decision on future


The new chairman of the Connect South board, Graeme Sykes, hopes a “community conversation” on the future of the social service network will help to rejuvenate it.

Connect South has been through chaos since just before Christmas, when it pulled out of managing Community House, citing funding issues, and suffered a mass walkout of staff.

Mr Sykes, who took over as chairman in February, said the fallout from the situation had had “quite a negative impact” on the community and the board.

However, it was time to move towards making vital decisions about the future for Connect South (formerly Dunedin Council of Social Services), which has supported Dunedin not-for-profit organisations since 1980, Mr Sykes said.

These could include a new strategy for the organisation, entering into a partnership to maintain services, or winding up the organisation and handing over its role to others.

Mr Sykes is “pleased and excited” that independent group Dunedin Community Builders has agreed to use its expertise to facilitate a frank discussion among the broader community sector during a “community conversation” session on July 23.

“I believe that it is important now to look at the big picture – these things are quite complex,” he said.

“And I am excited at the possibility that we will get something out of the conversation that will rejuvenate the organisation and get it up and going again.”

The open forum/workshop session will be led by experienced group facilitator Jan Hudson, a member of the Dunedin Community Builders – an informal and independent group of community development practitioners.

Ms Hudson said she would offer her facilitation skills for the July 23 forum as it had become clear that a “very important conversation needed to be held around Connect South”.

The organisation, and particularly its predecessor the Dunedin Council of Social Services, had played an important role in the development and voice of the Dunedin community sector for more than 35 years.

“We [Dunedin Community Builders] feel that it is important to open up the discussion as widely as possible to help Connect South and the community work out a solution,” she said.

“We need to open doors to people who haven’t been part of the discussion previously.”

It was vital to ask what would be lost if Connect South ceased to exist, and also what potential future opportunities could also be lost.

“So, we need to get as many people in the room as we can, and take it from there.”

For the first half of this year, any Connect South services being maintained were being done by board members, as the organisation did not have any staff, Mr Sykes said.

“We are therefore not as fully operative as we were.”

Services that continued to operate included Dunedin Community Accounting, and disseminating information from central and local government via a newsletter.

Mr Sykes said recent attempts to canvas the opinions of Connect South’s up to 140 member organisations had been unsuccessful, and so the board had not finalised a position to put to members.

The option of winding up the organisation versus maintaining it was ultimately a membership decision, which would be made at an annual meeting in September, he said.

As one of the first Council of Social Services organisations to be founded in New Zealand, Connect South had a proud history of doing good work.

“If Connect South closed it would be a very sad day in Dunedin,” Mr Sykes said.