To CHB, with Love
By Chris Proctor and Hannah Webster
Photo by Hannah Webster
If you were to go and search for Central Hawke’s Bay’s district’s biggest champion, you wouldn’t have to look much further than its mayor. Sitting amidst the breakfast rush at the local café, we asked Alex Walker everything about the mayoralty, district and beyond, and we started with her.
Who is Alex in two sentences? “Two sentences? Is that all?”, she replies laughing. “My name is Alex Walker…” Alex has lived in the CHB community all her life, she’s a mother of three daughters and is crazy about everything CHB. When she’s not chairing meetings, chatting to locals or backing CHB on a national level, Alex is a keen musician and performer.
She enjoys playing the trumpet and truly believes in the value of music to rangatahi (young people) in small communities. Mayor Alex road to the mayoralty was that of a career politician, in fact, Alex never thought shed be mayor at all. She studied microbiology and soon after, worked at a product developer and New Zealand developing innovative vaccinations, medical regulation and marketing. Alex also ran a small business and as she puts it ”That’s when I decided I needed to be mayor.” Alex says, “The most rewarding thing about being mayor is that you can change lives at a local every day and that’s a real privilege.” As mayor, she is most proud of the positive leadership in council and across the community and we have been able to be really honest about the challenges we face as a small community, particularly around how we afford infrastructure. “To be thriving means to be pretty positive and energetic.”
The conversation turned to the CHB district, specifically what its mayor thought was best. “So many things!”, says Alex (who knew?) “I think first and foremost it's about people – a small town is pretty amazing. People say that the ‘central’ part of CHB doesn’t make sense any more, but actually, we are the centre of everything and on the way to everywhere.” But in the end, it's no secret that we face some pretty big challenges as we come out of Covid and the cyclone, what are some of the biggest issues we face? “We’ve got big hopes and dreams as a community, but our biggest issue is the affordability of those services” …” We deserve access to infrastructure and services just like a big city, and our biggest issue as local government is to make in-roads into that.” It's no secret that young people will inherit and will be left to grapple with some of our biggest challenges, so supporting rangatahi is a priority. “An understanding that young people are the key to the future and that they understand big issues in a way that many adults don’t is really essential. But we also know that our young people learning and growing here and want to stay in the area in the future is actually key to how we continue to thrive.”
Alex supports youth through the young council and mentors young people in the young maori leadership programme – Tuia Te Heretangata. Additionally, the council has a large focus on employment though the ‘Mayors Taskforce for Jobs.’
We wanted to know that, while on the topic of jobs, what would Mayor Alex say to a young person gunning for the top job in the district? Alex was elected mayor at age 36 and says, “Anything is possible and its really exiting. We’re seeing a huge step-change across local government in terms of young being represented. I want CHB to be a fabulous place to live now and into the future.”
Now. The burning questions. After local government, can Alex Walker see herself standing for government? “It’s not something I have ever considered at all, but what I like about this job is that you’re in the community that changes lives every day and I can’t say hand on heart that I can see that from those in the beehive.”
Elected office can be tough. Our politicians feel the brunt of public opinion and its not always easy. We wanted to know how Mayor Alex deals with that. “You have to learn how to set boundaries, look after yourself and rejuvenate yourself. I might be exhausted on a Thursday night, but I still go off to band practice to recharge and I always come home with my cup refilled.”
Alex says the mayoralty was never at the end of the bucket list, “I always look for places to add value and I’ll keep doing that.”