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Pair’s station in life allows them to make a difference

Kathy Gilbert and Fran Graham – familiar faces at the front desk of the Raglan police station – may work for free but they’re “worth their weight in gold” according to local officers and it’s that sense of purpose and usefulness which keeps them there.

Fran, a nursing tutor of 40-odd years, and Kathy – who’s long held the desire as a practising Baha’i to be of service to the community – say being the first point of contact at the station gives them the chance to contribute and make a difference in the community.

Kathy’s fronted the Wi Neera Street office five mornings a week for seven years while Fran came on board a year ago to job-share now Kathy’s become busy coordinating and growing Neighbourhood Support groups, a community-owned programme that works closely with the police to make homes and streets safe.

“We try to build a (sense of) family,” says Kathy of the national crime prevention scheme, which has worked successfully in some Raglan areas including Te Akau across the harbour for 20 years.

Kathy, at 65, makes no secret of the fact she has long battled “severe” health challenges including multiple sclerosis (MS) which left her with a paralysed face back in the early ‘80s. But Raglan has been a healing place, she says, and her barely evident disability is no excuse to opt out of the workforce.

She arrived in town 15 years ago to house-sit at Upper Bow Street for Baha’i couple Miette and the late Murray Smith while they were away in Haifa, Israel, where Murray was then deputy secretary-general of the Baha’i International Community.

A degree in sociology and education behind her, Kathy had travelled extensively in New Zealand working with people – especially youth – from all cultures but also venturing to Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and American reservations as a Baha’i who believes in “service to community” for personal wellbeing.

That philosophy still drives Kathy, and in her role now as a volunteer at the police station there’s a need for empathy, she says. It’s important that people are heard and listened to and that any cultural barriers drop down, she insists. “I’ve got a listening ear.”

While she and Fran both have paperwork and phone calls to do down at the station to clear the way for the three constables on duty at any one time, they also have to be ready to greet people and sometimes deal with difficult situations.

Fran says compared to the hospital environment she’s familiar with people might not be so “comfortable” at the police station. She sees the volunteers’ job as helping allay their fears and finding the best outcome for them.

Fran’s son is a policeman and it was he who suggested his mother might like to work at the local station after the recent loss of her job and marriage, coupled with major back surgery, left her feeling “rudderless”.

The job’s given her a reason to get up in the morning, she says. Now 67, Fran was able to pull her life together again and has a whole new respect for police work too after seeing it from the inside.

She and Kathy have become good friends and believe the face at the front desk is more important than that impersonal, automated response at the door only.
The small police team they work with– Raewyn McLachlan, Dean McMillan and Kevin Bailey – reckon they couldn’t do without their volunteers. In “sifting” not only the lost and found property but also attending to myriad details daily, Kathy and Fran clear the way for them to get on with the core job of policing.

“We couldn’t do without them,” Kevin told the Chronicle. “They’re essential.”
And “really worth their weight in gold”, added Raewyn.

Edith Symes


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