2023 Prospa Local Business Hero Awards

Local Business Hero 2023

Reactions from the Prospa Local Business Hero Awards winner and finalists.

The Prospa Local Business Hero Awards, in partnership with Neighbourly, recognise the amazing work of small business owners across New Zealand – the unsung heroes who make an impact in their communities.

The winner was selected from a group of 11 finalists who were nominated by members of the local community.

This year’s winner, as voted in a public poll, is Meg Wilson QSM, the owner and co-founder of PAWS Pet Animal Welfare Shops, which provides funding for animal emergencies and desexing.

We spoke to Meg about her passion for animal welfare and charity, and heard from four finalists about what it means to be recognised for their impact in the community.

Winner: Meg Wilson, PAWS Pet Animal Welfare Shops

Meg Wilson PAWS

“I was taken aback to say the least,” says Meg of finding out that she had won.

The charity has grown to where it is today from very humble beginnings.

“We started the business 13 years ago,” she says. “There were six of us who put in 20 dollars each, and a landlord who gave us a month’s rent for free.”

Now, PAWS operates out of three locations across Putaruru – “each with their own identity” – and across two Facebook pages. The first is the business’s main page, and the second acts as a network to connect stray and abandoned kittens with ‘fur-ever’ homes and new, loving owners.

Its focus on charity is essential to the business’s standing in the community, and Meg credits her team as contributing to its success.

“PAWS has put over $1.2 million into animal welfare,” she says. “This money has mainly been used for desexing but does encompass other short-term needs for our animals.

“I’m passionate about my work for PAWS – and I am so lucky to have an amazing team behind me,” she says.

Finalist: Elmer and Gina Peiffer, Rotorua Whakaora

Elmer and Gina Pfeiffer

Elmer and Gina Peiffer co-run the food rescue, recovery and distribution charity Rotorua Whakaora in the Bay of Plenty Region. Their business was one of 11 finalists in the competition.

“We operate free stores which act as a top-up for people requiring food security, and provide basic necessities and other items that may be beyond their capabilities or finances to acquire,” he says. “We also support local students and other groups that focus on food security issues.”

Elmer adds that it is “truly humbling” to be recognised for the work he and Gina do.

“Being a part of the Hawkes Bay cyclone relief has been an amazing journey in itself,” he says. “If anyone needs assistance, our door is open to all.”

Finalist: The team at Opal Fibre Packaging

Opal Fibre Packaging

The Opal Fibre Packaging team in Hastings was also active in the response to the Hawkes Bay floods, sending out 40 staff members a day to help with the cleanup effort.

“When we saw the devastation caused by Cyclone Gabrielle, we rallied together, gathered up tools and helped as many residents as we could,” says team member Graham Renata. “And we would do it all again – it’s in our culture to look out for one another.”

He suggests other local business owners prioritise people if they wish to achieve success.

“Not only your team members, but your wider communities,” he says. “Stay strong and remember a well-known whakatauki, or proverb: ‘He aha te mea nui o te ao, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata’, or ‘What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people’.”

Finalist: Cam Vernon, Vernon Developments

Cam Vernon

Cam Vernon’s team at Vernon Development was also nominated for its response to Cyclone Gabrielle, with the team pulling long hours filling sandbags in advance of the cyclone and doing remedial work in the aftermath.

Outside of disasters, Vernon Developments offers residential and commercial earthworks, cartage, and bitumen and concrete aggregate recycling services.

“My wife Becky will tell you I’m a rather modest person,” says Cam. “We don’t do the things we do for the sake of PR or recognition – that’s not what it’s about.

“We are here to help. We will try until we achieve the desired outcome and will never shy away from a challenge.”

Finalist: Julie Dickeson, The Office Café

The Office Cafe

Julie Dickeson runs the breakfast and lunch outlet The Office Cafe with her husband Graeme.

“The Office Cafe has been part of the Maungatapere community for more than 13 years,” she says. “We take pride in offering wholesome, homemade food – we know what’s in it and where it comes from.”

In addition to providing a homespun culinary experience at the cafe, the husband-and-wife duo support and organise activities locally.

“We are quite socially minded in offering the cafe as a local drop-off and pick-up point for anyone who needs it,” says Julie. “We also take care of a community pantry and recently held a dinner to raise funds for flood victims in Hawkes Bay.”

She was pleasantly surprised to hear of the nomination.

“Sometimes in the day-to-day running of a business, you don’t realise how your actions impact the community,” she says.

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