Nick Chester and Brent Esykens enjoying a day out at Pilot Bay
Growing up in Rotorua as the oldest of five siblings, Nick Chester has always had a passion for equality and fairness.
This passion has carried him throughout his life and career, and after recently moving to Tauranga with his partner Dani, he started working at Tauranga City Council in disability issues in the Community Development team.
“I’ve been lucky to work with many community groups and individuals who want to make sure people with disabilities and older people can live full and happy lives in our communities. Working alongside people with lived experience of disability is so important to understanding the everyday difficulties and barriers they face,” he says.
Caring for others came early to Nick, who from a young age saw it as his duty to help his mum look after his younger siblings, including a brother with a learning disability.
“In those days, you just got on with life. He was never diagnosed with anything, and we didn’t even really know what that meant. We just set our family up in a way that supported him. I never wanted him to be left out or feel excluded,” says Nick.
Nowadays, making sure no one feels excluded in the wider Tauranga community is what gets him out of bed in the morning, and he’s excited to see Council and the community taking action together to improve physical access to all of Tauranga Moana’s places and spaces.
“Most of us are blind to seeing barriers but once you start seeing them, you can’t stop seeing them,” he says.
“I might be in Raglan getting coffee and I’ll notice things like tactiles on footpaths, or that a door’s too heavy. If we build a city that works for people with disabilities, it will work for everyone.”
Work on that city is already underway, for example, having beach access mats available, installing accessible picnic tables at popular locations across the city and providing beach wheelchairs to help people with disabilities enjoy days out on the beach with friends and whānau.
Another project underway is the Te Kaiwhakatere Trailrider Fun Day, taking place on 3 December at Hopukiore - Mount Drury Reserve. This event celebrates International Day of People with Disabilities by providing a motorised, all-terrain wheelchair to support people who experience limited mobility to travel to the summit of Mauao.
“Most of us take the view from the top of Mauao for granted, but there are many people in our communities who can only dream about being on the summit. Being part of enabling these people to fulfil that dream, seeing the smiles and joy on their faces, is what makes my job so worthwhile,” says Nick.
To keep the momentum going, Nick is now working in a strategic role, developing an Action and Investment Plan which will set out what actions we need to take together to continue break down the barriers that exclude people and can leave them feeling they don’t belong.
“In essence, the Accessible Tauranga Action and Investment Plan is about creating a more accessible city for everyone,” says Nick.
“Tauranga has an ageing population and a growing number of people living with a disability. By removing barriers such as having better access to information that Council provides, more accessible parking and the provision of technology that will enable people with disabilities to fully engage; these are key to making this city work for everyone.
And while it’s important to get the functional side of things right for the city, Nick says the disability community has a right to have access to the fun stuff too. His career highlights include watching a person with an illness and unable to walk using a beach wheelchair to splash her feet in the water.
“I want everyone to have the opportunity to lead a full and happy life,” he says.
“We’re already doing a lot of work on creating an accessible city, but what else is missing? What are the gaps? How do we ensure maximising accessibility becomes part of everybody’s everyday thinking?”
To share your thoughts and ideas about making Tauranga more accessible for everyone, take the action and investment plan survey at www.tauranga.govt.nz/actionplan.