Back in 2001 John Gwilliam put his hand up to become a trustee of the Hutt Mana Energy Trust.

Eighteen years on and the Energy Trust has been wound up, its charitable arm has morphed into the Hutt Mana Charitable Trust of today providing more than $1 million in funding per year to community groups and organisations, schools and individuals.

John has been Chair since 2016 and he’s now stepping down to give someone else a go.

When John got involved with the Hutt Mana Energy Trust its charitable entity had been operating since 1996 with a very restricted trust deed focused on providing support for energy efficiency projects.

“I was involved in the Upper Hutt Chamber of Commerce and it came to our attention that there was $150 million sitting in this Energy Trust and that it had a charitable arm limited in what it could do.”

John says a group got together and stood to go on the Trust. “Our idea was to wind it up and pay out the money to power consumers.

“Four of us got onto the Trust and we went out to consultation with the community to see what they wanted to be done. They said, let’s try using the money for the community, so we ended up ring fencing $35 million capital for the Trust and paid out the rest to consumers in 2005.”

John says that’s when the Hutt Mana Energy Trust was wound up the Energy Trust transferred the $35 million capital to the Hutt Mana Charitable Trust.

“The purposes of the Charitable Trust were at the same time broadened to include general charitable purposes– the pool of capital has now grown to more than $40 million.”

The trustees looked at how best to allocate the funding and decided to get into partnership with the Sustainability Trust and start funding energy retrofits, says John.

“At the time we were the only ones doing this outside of the government – then we partnered with EnergySmart for the same thing, so for a time retrofitting was our main focus.”

Over time the Trust evolved in its funding focus from energy retrofits to trying to target funding to the areas of most need.

“As we’ve gone on, we’ve become more and more concerned about people living in sub-standard housing which is contributing to problems like rheumatic fever. The issue has been how to target those people – it’s not easy!”

John says many of those in substandard housing live in rental properties.

“This means we have to have a relationship with landlords if we want to make changes. A lot of these vulnerable families are going to the doctor and the doctor is saying you’ve got a housing issue. They’re too scared to dob in their landlord in case they end up without a home and that’s a major obstacle.”

John says the trustees found there were a lot of good people already doing this work in their own patches like Well Homes, the Sustainability Trust, local district health boards and Tū Ora Compass Health.

“So, we’ve partnered with these organisations to fund them to do more of the work they’re doing in the community.”

Last year the Trust started funding the Porirua Housing Project.  “This is a deep dive where we identified 20 houses in Cannons Creek to bring up to standard. On the back of its success we’re expanding that to 40 homes this coming year (20 in Porirua and 20 in north Wellington). This project is a partnership with Tū Ora Compass Health.”

John says the families involved in the project are extremely grateful at the opportunity they’ve been given to improve the health of their whānau through improving their housing.

We’ve also had another approach from Well Homes for further funding for work with health boards to identify families in need and to provide wrap around services, says John.

“It’s great when you can target the funding to those in need.”

The Trust also supports schools and students in the area.

“We think education is really important so, since about 2012, we’ve been funding projects in primary and intermediate schools and offering scholarships for Year 13 students going on to other study, training or learning. We’ve broadened our scholarship criteria from being strictly energy related and now almost every school can put someone forward for a scholarship.”

John’s involvement with the Trust whetted his political appetite and he stood for, and got onto, Upper Hutt City Council in 2004.

John headed up various committees during his term as Councillor and became Deputy Mayor in 2013.

He’s seen many changes in the city during this time but has decided he now wants to move on and spend more time with his family.

“I’m the sole survivor from 2001 Hutt Mana Energy Trust days and I’ve decided to leave on a high. It’s been an honour and a pleasure to work with some great people both on Council and on the Trust.”