Graffiti Volunteer Coordinator Lola Liava’a-Tonga
Before the launch of the ‘Blank it Out’ programme – which is a removal strategy incorporated in the Council’s ‘Graffiti Vandalism Management Plan’ – graffiti vandalism was only removed from Council-owned facilities and ‘In Scope’ areas such as the CBD, main arterial routes and high public profile spaces.
Now, with the help of Lola and her volunteers, the rest of the city can be beautified too.
Lola’s job is not just about beautifying the city however; it is also about making people feel safe. Graffiti vandalism can make people feel unsafe, attracting additional graffiti and other crimes to the area. It also has a negative impact on property values.
Lola’s role is all about interacting with and empowering people to take ownership of areas affected by graffiti vandalism, encouraging them to take pride in their neighbourhood. “Rapid removal is the most effective way of managing graffiti vandalism, depriving graffiti vandals of the recognition they seek.”
Coming from Tonga, community has always been such a big part of Lola’s life. “Back home community is important, it defines our way of life – it’s not only your family; it’s your extended family, your church, your friends, anyone you know”. Lola wants to bring this feeling of connectedness to Wellington, encouraging people to get involved in what’s happening.
“People are being provided with the means of cleaning the buildings in their own communities. Volunteers who sign up are given graffiti removal products, water based paints, paint brushes and protective items such as gloves, eye wear and high vis vests to make the process of cleaning up Graffiti as easy as possible”.
For Lola this is the real meaning behind what she does. “When you see that change in peoples’ behaviours, see them taking pride and ownership of their own neighbourhood - it’s rewarding”.
Lola admits that her job has its challenges “working with people to change their behaviours is not always easy” but to her, seeing a few people make the change and become active in their community is worth any struggle.
Lola is very passionate about what she does. “Being out there, connected with your community and making a difference just doesn’t seem like work”.
Blank it Out launched on the 5th December 2015 and already it has seen huge successes with over 20 groups and individuals expressing their interest in volunteering at the programme’s launch. “I can’t wait to see how this project grows over the next couple of months”.
Now that all the ‘admin stuff’ is out of the way Lola hopes to spend a lot more time away from her desk - talking to the volunteers, making sure they are well supported and meeting with other organisations and community groups to learn more about them and encourage them to become involved.
“If you come along to one of our events you’ll get to meet me and, if you’re lucky, you may even get to sample one of my cakes which won first place in the Council Bake-Off.
If you’d like more information or are thinking about becoming a volunteer visit Blank it Out Launch