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Cromwell’s young people are set to benefit from a mental health initiative launched last week.

Highlands Motorsport Park announced it will fund a community social worker and mental health first aid workshops for pupils in Cromwell for the next five years.

Highlands owner Tony Quinn said the holistic approach to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of young people was a way to give back to the community but also safeguard future generations.

New Zealand had one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world so it was no secret young people faced mental health challenges, he said.

“This initiative will help a lot of young people and families in the local community.

“If we can save one life, then it will be worthwhile. I lost a daughter to cancer when she was 40 and for any parent to bury their child is a hugely traumatic thing to go through.”

As a community, we want to try to avoid that at all costs.”

Highlands chief executive officer Josie Spillane said she approached Goldfields Primary School, Cromwell Primary School, Cromwell College and the Cromwell Youth Trust (CYT), and the urgent need for a social worker in schools was identified.

Highlands wanted to ensure every child was equipped with tools to support mental wellbeing from an early age, Mrs Spillane said.

“It’s not tokenism not about writing a cheque . . . it’s about how are we actually going to see a significant transformation in the community of Cromwell and give them every opportunity to succeed and live a positive life.

“Our team is part of this community. Our kids go to school in Cromwell, play sports for the local teams and so were very aware they are growing up at a time when they are dealing with some very adult themes. We wanted to ensure that every child gets the right tools from the beginning to set them up for life, and ensure that as parents and a community we have those tools to support them too.”

The social worker would be instrumental in creating a safe and supportive environment for young people, and facilitating early prevention initiatives.

A key focus would be supporting families to access assistance, support networks and information about their rights and entitlements, with a particular focus on mental health and education, she said.

Highlands would also fund a series of ASK Schools Programs this year to connect with students around mental health through engagement and activities.

CYT board member and former local Police Youth Aid Officer Tamah Alley said she backed the initiative “100%”.

“It’s needed everywhere, not just in Cromwell, she said.

The Covid-19 pandemic heightened challenges already experienced by young people,with lockdowns and uncertainty increasing mental health issues.

“Massive” wait lists to see mental health clinicians in the area also had an impact, she said.

“This initiative will make a tangible difference to the lives of many families in Cromwell.

“Community mental health and wellbeing is a collective responsibility, not just the responsibility of the mental health sector.”