Charity revolves around failing tourist attraction, and young lives, at the same time

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A North Auckland support group may have found the answer to the region’s problem of neglected youngsters involved in raids – teaching them how to care for rams and other animals.

The iconic Sheepworld tourist attraction north of Warkworth was saved from bankruptcy at the last minute when it was recently bought by youth charity Springboard.

It is now being used to help at-risk youth get a fresh start by providing mentorship and opportunities to learn new skills.

His young farm workers will be involved in animal care, including feeding calves, shearing sheep and raising piglets.

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Springboard general manager Gary Diprose said he was looking for a new location when Sheepworld came on the market.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we could make it happen. I was looking for two hectares, not an 11 hectare farm,” Diprose said.

Feed the calves at Sheepworld.

Abigail Dougherty / Stuff

Feed the calves at Sheepworld.

There has been a growing demand for Springboard’s services. It has 30 staff, 10 targeted programs and last year worked with 240 children and young people in the North Auckland region.

Springboard runs an “alternative education” program for young people.  This week's lesson is donkey brushing.

Abigail Dougherty / Stuff

Springboard runs an “alternative education” program for young people. This week’s lesson is donkey brushing.

“We work with at-risk youth because we believe people deserve equal opportunity, regardless of their education,” Diprose said.

Their programs include early identification and intervention for children ages 8 and up. Springboard also works with young people up to the age of 25, accompanying them towards employment.

Young people are matched with a mentor, learn life skills and have access to advice from a social worker.

“Working with animals will also be massively therapeutic for young people who may have become disengaged due to high anxiety. It keeps them going,” Diprose said.

Springboard general manager Gary Diprose, left, with some of the youngsters eager to learn how to shear sheep and raise animals.

Abigail Dougherty / Stuff

Springboard general manager Gary Diprose, left, with some of the youngsters eager to learn how to shear sheep and raise animals.

Diprose said the trend of young people carrying out raids in Auckland was concerning, but tougher penalties were not the answer.

“I’m convinced that if kids are raiding, they urgently need a positive voice in their corner that speaks for them. If they don’t understand this, it will only increase their bitterness and pain as they grow older.

Diprose said the pandemic had “really knocked Sheepworld out of its former glory”, but big plans were underway to breathe new life into the iconic attraction which has reopened to the public.

Tourists at Sheepworld can see how a lead dog rounds up sheep on a working farm.

Abigail Dougherty / Stuff

Tourists at Sheepworld can see how a lead dog rounds up sheep on a working farm.

Over the next few months Sheepworld intends to introduce more animals and in the meantime the Sheepdog Show has been revived, where visitors can see a working dog in action following whistle commands complex, jumping over fences and expertly herding sheep.

Diprose said he was confident tourists would “come back with a vengeance”. About 800 people visited at an open house this month.

The new site is directly at the end of the new highway from Puhoi to Warkworth which will be completed next year.

Sheepworld's premises have enabled the rapid growth of Springboard's programs.

Abigail Dougherty / Stuff

Sheepworld’s premises provided room to expand for Springboard’s rapidly growing programs.

“Our primary focus is always to make sure young people are job-ready and have confidence in the real work environment, but we also want to make Sheepworld a premium destination with an important social purpose,” said Diprosis.

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