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Community banding together after threats, intimidation at library

The Southland App

Reporting by RNZ

29 March 2024, 8:20 PM

Community banding together after threats, intimidation at libraryMataura Library has shortened its opening hours after a group of young people intimidated and threatened patrons. Photo: Google Maps

Mataura residents are coming together to address anti-social behaviour from rangatahi.

Teenagers have been intimidating Mataura Library staff and customers for months, forcing it to reduce its opening hours from this week and roster staff on duty in pairs.

The behaviour was mainly verbal intimidation and threats by a group of young people under 18.

"Obviously that is not ideal. We want libraries to be places where people can hang out and connect. But we also want those people to feel welcome and safe when they do," the council's library manager Emma Sherie said.

An emergency meeting was held on Thursday where the community discussed the behaviour and possible solutions, she said.

"It was a really productive meeting with some really good outcomes. What quickly became clear is that there are many layers to this issue that can't be solved with one single solution.

"It is a community issue, and one which I'm delighted to say an entire community has put its hands up to solve," Sherie said.

Mataura Ward councillor Neville Phillips attended the meeting, which he said had a strong turnout.

"Most of the residents were upset when we did find out what was happening in the library and service centre. It's a space for everybody, it's not just a space for one group," he said.

Those involved tended to head straight to the library from the school bus, which was why the library's hours had been shortened to close at 2.30pm, Phillips said.

Firstly, a meeting would be held with the young people and their parents to try understand the behaviour, he said.

"We have got to ask the kids ... the children are bored, they've got nothing to do probably, so we've got to get them those solutions, find solutions to help them out.

"Some of the solutions [raised at the emergency meeting] included trying to find a space of their own and that will be my job, I'll work away on that, trying to find a space for them to learn things," Phillips said.

He intended to report back to the community on how the search for a youth space was tracking in the next fortnight.

Anti-social behaviour from young people was not an isolated problem, Phillips said.

"It's not just in Mataura, it's happening throughout the whole of the country. I think we just need to harden up ourselves and find these young children and give them a better life," he said.

A national Education Review Office report released on Thursday found a quarter of principals had seen students harm others or damage or steal property at least every day.

While the community worked on resolving the behaviour, the library and service centre would continue to operate on the reduced weekday hours of 10am-2.30pm.

Reproduced with permission

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