by Helen Martin
Mark Dennis moved to Parakai with his family when he was in his teens. He has worked in a number of roles at Parakai Springs since he was a university student and has been Operations Manager there for the past five years. He and his partner Rachel have three young children. For most people this would be enough commitment, but Mark is one of those people whose boundless energy and sense of community obligation leads him to keep taking on other roles.
He says his boss, Dion Tilson, has been a good role model. “Dion’s always involved in everything. He got me onto the community patrol early on and I was secretary of that for a while.” Obviously, community involvement suited Mark because, as a result of playing tennis with Dion and co-worker Annette, he became a committee member of the local tennis club. In 2018 he won the prestigious New Zealand Gardener of the Year accolade, awarded to our “horticultural superheroes” by New Zealand’s oldest gardening magazine and decided by popular vote. “I always have a garden and thought I could plant extra to give away, then I decided to chuck a stand up outside and the idea caught on. I didn’t really intend it to be a big thing,” he says. But a big thing it became, with the idea catching on not just locally but throughout New Zealand and then, thanks to the internet, in countries overseas. In the 2019 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards Mark won a local hero medal for creating the community and vege stand movement. He is still the administrator of the Community and Vege Stands Facebook page he established “for the community to share their spare produce from their gardens. Giving value to fruit and veg that might otherwise go to waste…”. The page now has 12.8K members.
Because Mark knows Facebook pages can play a big role in fostering community spirit, he also carries out the time-consuming work of administering several others - Helensville and Parakai Community, Parakai Springs, North West Country, and Palmerston North Community.
Significantly, his latest voluntary role is as the new chairperson of the North West Country Association, Business Improvement District (BID), which serves Kaukapakapa, Helensville, South Head, Huapai, Waimauku, Kumeu and Riverhead. He says the organisation understands the amazing potential North West Auckland has to offer as Auckland’s playground, and has a strong focus on attracting visitors to the region. Also front of mind is the understanding that the backbone of a business association is ensuring local businesses are heard and supported, whether this is through advocacy, training or brand recognition. He says there is much to look forward to, including the Helensville Commercial Road development, which will see tangible progress in the area.
Addressing the fact that some businesses may still be critical of BID, Mark says the association has a responsibility to listen to any concerns, do its best to represent and support the whole area and continue to make the region’s brand recognisable. He’d like anyone with comments, ideas or changes they would like to see implemented to get in touch. With Christmas around the corner and the usual local parades cancelled because of COVID-19, BID has put up Christmas trees in Kumeu and Helensville and funded Christmas lights for businesses to decorate their shop fronts. ”It’s about generating some Christmas spirit and encouraging people to spend locally.”
Mark likes to get involved because he likes to see progress. In another big venture he’s working towards becoming a Justice of the Peace, something which is music to the ears of those hoping more younger people will join up. “You hear something’s going on and you ask if people need a hand,” he says. “I can help out with stuff.”