Fiona Stewart (nee Hargreaves), a youth worker, and Bailey Peryman, an ecologist, came together via Vodafone NZ Foundation.
Both were “World of Difference” grant recipients. They spotted a cross-over in their work and after a one-hour chat over coffee, the pair knew that their purposes were aligned and Cultivate Christchurch was born.
Fiona grew up on a farm between Geraldine and Fairlie, which, she says, taught her a lot about herself and gave her that sense of freedom and confidence. Living on a farm was a huge reason why she wanted to start a farm school for young people that didn’t grow up with those opportunities. Particularly those that have challenges learning, because a farm is a place where you can do things in a more free environment. There’s always a job and always a purpose for that activity. When you feel like you’ve got a purpose, you feel more connected.
Fiona originally trained in psychology and education, but after a stint of overseas travel realised that the energy and youthful intelligence of teenagers inspired her most.
“I love the energy that comes with a young person and the wisdom that’s generally untapped because they haven’t been in an environment where they feel comfortable to open up and share their perspective of the world. I’m learning so much every day from giving them a voice. It’s mind blowing.”
Bailey remembers being a teenager.
“You have the energy of youth - unbridled and unfiltered, a raw, pure creative energy. And then it meets society and meets reflections of itself. Everyone has to go through a crisis of dealing with itself and and asking ‘who am I?’'
"I went through that - every human goes through that. But I had the privilege of going through it with a loving family and with access to opportunities to learn. To be able to create that environment for young people.”
Planting a seed and watching it grow might seem like a simple process, but Bailey sees something very profound at work. "When you are interacting with living systems, the same processes are reflected back within ourselves. You learn to understand what nourishes you at the most fundamental level - your soul. You learn what inspires you and what makes you feel healthy and alive.”
Fiona says she set out to create an environment for youth development, but along the ways she’s found a community for herself. “I didn’t even realise I was lacking a sense of community for myself, but now I feel a whole lot more connected.”