WORDS Liam Stretch PHOTOS Sarah Rowlands

When you enter Pay it Forward, you quickly realise what the place is about.

It’s a place for people.

In an adjoining community space, an ESOL class is underway. The other, an emporium of artisanship.

In this cornucopia of craft, creativity is contagious. In fact, it is pasted on the wall with a quote by Albert Einstein; who I think would have approved of the place.

A collection of knick-knacks, jewellery, and the most delicious looking dog treats I have ever seen (they resemble a box of perfect little donuts) are displayed among children’s toys, reclaimed earthquake timber transformed into picture frames and artwork.

“There’s an aura of love around the products. You feel it when you walk in,” Pay it Forward coordinator Lee Arthur says.

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She talks me through the place. There are 56 makers or craftspeople at Pay it Forward and they operate as a co-operative, with each member giving back to the shop in order to sell their wares.

“Everything that is sold here helps pay the crafters, with a large amount of the profits going back to Neighbourhood Trust,” Lee says.

Springing into life in 2013, Lee explains that the Pay it Forward story began with Jenny Carson from local charity group, Neighbourhood Trust.

“One day she felt what she called a God whisper,” she says.

It was post-quake suburbia in the middle of Mairehau. Jenny looked around and tried to see if she could make something beautiful among the chaos. “She found this,” Lee says.

A small team began to form, and they consulted the community to find out what they wanted, and Pay it Forward came
into being – assisted by support from the community board and Neighbourhood Trust.

“We’re a social enterprise. Our umbrella body is Neighbourhood Trust,” Lee explains.

Lee and the team of crafters wanted to see everyone succeed and this year the collective ran a pilot craft lab programme where attendees learned everything from how to package and market a product to the ins and outs of cash flow.

“It was an eight-week course on how to turn a hobby into a business,” she says.

The $5 classes have been well received with around 400 people attending this year, and it was included as part of KidsFest.

Sustainability is also central to the ethos of Pay it Forward. The team painted the shop themselves and they have noticed an increase in sales in the current environment – with a growing number of people becoming more aware of the need to be sustainable.

All of Pay it Forward’s products have limited packaging, minimal transport emissions, and are made out of ethical materials.

“We keep in mind sustainability in everything we do. We have produce bags, beeswax wraps, and organic body products,” Lee says.

The co-op are advocates for shopping locally and Lee says it goes further than just supporting the local economy.

“Every time a customer spends a dollar, they are actually supporting a family. When you buy locally, someone literally does a happy dance.”

FeaturesJoshua Brosnahan