National support worker summit wrap-up

Mā te manaaki ā-taiao e torotika ai te tū o te māhuri tōtara

When the tōtara is nurtured by its environment, it matures with dignity.

Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui and Platform Trust co-hosted the Māhuri Tōtara: National support worker summit in December 2018 at Te Papa Museum in Wellington.

Over 130 people from across the country and a wide range of support work roles in mental health and addiction services attended. We were able to offer a limited amount of grants to help contribute towards travel costs for 29 support workers, who otherwise may have missed out.

We had a variety of keynote speakers that inspired us about why our work is important, informed us about what needs to change in how services are delivered, and provided practical tools and tips to use in our work. Click on the links to presentations below for those who weren’t able to attend.

Dr Glenn Colquhoun, a GP, youth worker and poet, shared his insights about the importance of support work in connecting with people and inspired us with people’s stories through his poetry.  Dr Barbara Disley shared what she heard as a panel member on the Mental health and addiction inquiry and implications for how we work. Abbie Ranui shared what she learnt through her research and some considerations for support workers.  Aly McNicoll provided some tips and guidance on strengthening our practice through the use of supervision.  Emma Wood spoke about the support workforce data and what we have heard so far through the regional support worker forums.  Caro Swanson talked about the evolution of the Peer workforce and its uniqueness in the context of support work.

Caro’s presentation is available to watch below and take a look at her blog on the role of the peer workforce.


In addition to the key note presentations, there were bus stop skills sessions where a number of support workers shared their knowledge about a vast array of topics so that there was something for everyone – physical health, stigma and discrimination, gut health, working with Māori and Pasifika, and advocacy to name a few.

Throughout the day there was also a focus on people’s wellbeing, where some people took the opportunity to hear the presentations from the comfort of a massage chair, whilst students from the NZ College of Massage worked on easing tense muscles.

Feedback was collected from the summit participants to help shape the future of the support workforce. Suggestions for what might be the best name for the future role of a ‘support worker’ were certainly varied, but the most frequently re-occurring ones were Wellness practitioner and Wellbeing coach.  

With the recent launch of the refreshed Let’s get real framework, check out a few ways support workers said the values were reflected in the way they work here.

The purpose of a summit is usually to share knowledge, address change and improve practice; these are some things attendees said they’re going to change to enhance their own work, since attending the summit.

Throughout the day we asked all attendees to provide comments and thoughts about the day. To reflect the symbolism of Māhuri Tōtara attendees were asked to add leaves to a beautiful tree drawn by Damian Holt – so by the end of the day we had a very full and flourishing tree.

The day was a great celebration of support workers and the value these roles bring to people’s lives. Check out more images from the summit and sign up to Te Pou’s e-bulletin to keep up to date with other activities that may occur in the future.