The Issue

New Zealand’s growing, ageing population is, and will continue to exert significant health, social, and economic pressures on New Zealand.

These pressures, which are similar for other Western countries, are exacerbated by changes to family values and structures, including the growing prevalence of nuclear families. The changes have negatively impacted the amount of family support that many older adults now receive. Concurrently, questions are raised about the effectiveness of traditional models of care, as detailed in the Office for Senior Citizens, Te Tari Kaumātua’s (2014) report on the Ministry of Social Development’s Healthy Ageing Strategy.

As the population ages there will be an increased demand for expensive long-term formal care and a decrease in care workers (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MIBE), 2009). Intergenerational equity (in this case fairness and justice related to the burden of costs carried by a younger generation for one that is ageing) and increased fiscal pressures, mean that current models of care for older people are becoming unsustainable, and in some cases are unsuitable.

In response to these issues the New Zealand government’s Positive Ageing Strategy (Ministry of Social Development, 2011) highlights the need for new models, including the development of age friendly environments and ageing in place. These are strengths-based models that encourage and support inclusivity, diversity, agency, and socialisation.

Initiatives like the Virtual Eastern Bay Villages: Te Kokoru Manaakitanga (VEBV: TKM) that are member-led, and emphasis participation and social support networks, are key to long term positive outputs and psychological wellbeing for older people (Bowling, 1991; Bowling & Farquar, 1991).

The Project

Ageing Well Together virtual exhibition is an output of the “Arts-Based Delivery of An Innovative Model of Aged Care: Systematising and Disseminating the Virtual Eastern Bay Villages Model of Ageing in Place” research project, funded by the New Zealand, Te Tari Kaumātua, Office for Seniors, and conducted at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, the University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

This arts-based research was evaluative and conducted to identify key features of the Virtual Eastern Bay Villages: Te Kokoru Manaakitanga (VEBV: TKM), a successful ageing in place initiative in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. Our research project highlights and engages a gap in health research focused on older people. With much of the research in the field examining biomedical and physical needs of older people, rather than working to understand older people as active participants in their own care, as opposed to passive recipients of services.

The two outputs of the research project are this Ageing Well Together virtual exhibition, which acts as a knowledge translation tool, and a guide describing key features of the EBV: TKM model of Ageing in Place. Features of the model described in both outcomes have been drawn from interviews with key members of the VEBV: TKM, including those who participated in the project’s contemplative art workshop, plus the workshop participant’s art-works. We offer these research outputs for the use of other communities interested in developing projects like the VEBV: TKM, and everyone working with older people in New Zealand and around the world.

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The Virtual Eastern Bay Villages
Te Kokoru Manaakitanga

The Virtual Eastern Bay Villages: Te Kokoru Manaakitanga (VEBV: TKM) was founded in 2016 by Ruth Gerzon, the first VEBV: TKM coordinator, after an experience caring for her elderly, socially isolated, uncle. As Ruth lives in the Eastern Bay of Plenty this is where the initiative is sited. Ruth started by inviting members of local government and community organisations, and her colleagues and friends to a public meeting. She used a number of platforms to publicise the VEBV: TKM, including her regular column in the “Grey Matters” section of the Eastern Bay Life.

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After the initial meeting, and many others, a steering committee was formed, a paid co-ordinator appointed in 2017, and a two whare (house) board consisting of Māori and Pākehā co-chairs and coordinators was formed. This board structure means that the VEBV: TKM is a two whare tangata Tiriti, Tangata whenua co governed organisation.  

The word ‘virtual’ in the title of the VEBV: TKM is used because, while the VEBV: TKM members are physically based in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, there isn’t an actual ‘village’, rather activities happen in various locations in the Eastern Bay. The VEBV: TKM’s central aim is to reduce isolation and vulnerability among older people in the Eastern Bay, and to enable them to have a good quality of life as they age in their own homes. From the beginning the VEBV: TKM board and members have differentiated the VEBV: TKM from service provision.

In contrast members strengths and agency are emphasised, they are not passive recipients of care but are encouraged to be active in decision making and to contribute their skills and time to the VEBV: TKM, and their fellow village members. This community-led development approach, supports members to build strong connections and deep relationships based on shared passions and interests

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Sharon - My Power
Workshop Participants

Ruth, who worked as the first VEBV: TKM coordinator for five years, handed over her coordination role in 2022. Currently there are over 100 members of the VEBV: TKM, who attend weekly catchups, games mornings in Whakatāne, trips out of Whakatāne, and a variety of presentations on subjects ranging from healthy eating to dealing with flooding in the Eastern Bay. Members have created offshoot groups in other parts of the Eastern Bay, and their requests for support with new technology, transport and home funerals has led to the creation of a variety of programs and aligned organizations focused on these topics. However, at the heart of the VEBV: TKM is what its board members call “the knitting” – that is the recognition of members strengths and skills, and support for members to share these with each other.

A grounding statement for the VEBV: TKM comes from Cormac Russell, who developed asset-based community development, which calls for us all:

“to create communities of interdependence with a welcome to the stranger at the edge”
(Russell, 2022).

Please Note: Several abbreviations of the VEBV: TKM are used throughout this exhibition, such as ‘EBV’ or ‘VEBV’. This is for ease of reading, or because the abbreviation was used by the participants in their interviews.

The Meditative Process
Art (MPA) method

The Meditative Process Art (MPA) method used in our research is an innovative arts-based research method designed by Dr Morgan to explore psychosocial aspects of individual and group experience. It combines meditation and art to support practitioners’ access to internal or subjective feelings that they assimilate using multimodal creative practices such as drawing, poetry and movement. The MPA method is led by imagery, meditative consciousness, and somatic, psychological, and affective experience. It employs central tenants and practices of process art, contemplative science, and creative arts therapy (CAT). The MPA method engages the chance occurrence or unintentional outcome and deep focus of ‘process’ art making. Contemplative science offers contemplative practice and research findings, related to heighten meta-awareness and executive function. The MPA method also employs practices and theory from CAT, which draws from Jungian psychology with its focus on working with subjective, pre-conceptual experience. For more information, please click here:

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We would like to acknowledge all the members of the VEBV: TKM who embraced this project from the beginning and gave their time in interviews, and at the contemplative art workshop. We are extremely grateful to Diane Turner, director of the Office for Seniors, who saw the merit of this research project and provided the funding necessary to conduct it, and complete the virtual exhibition.

Many thanks to Ruth Gerzon, the founder of the VEBV: TKM. Ruth’s enthusiasm, support, and introduction to members of her networks, underpin the success of our project.

Many thanks to the VEBV: TKM board members, who approved our research on the VEBV: TKM, and who participated in research interviews. Thank you to Jo, VEBV: TKM’s current coordinator and Kylie an organiser with the VEBV: TKM. Both facilitated recruitment for the workshop, were great supports on the day of the workshop, and helped with the interviews.

Lastly, this project would not have been possible without the 8 wonderful artists, who were courageous enough to attend a ‘contemplative art workshop’, something that none of them had experienced before. Thank you, we hope the outcomes of this project will offer useful information for the VEBV: TKM, and all individuals and organisations working with older New Zealanders, and older people everywhere!


Bowling, A. (1991). Social support and social networks: Their relationship to the successful and unsuccessful survival of elderly people in the community: An analysis of concepts and a review of the evidence. Family practice, 8(1), 68-83. 

Bowling, A., & Farquhar, M. (1991). Associations with social networks, social support, health status and psychiatric morbidity in three samples of elderly people. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 28(3), 115-126. 

Office for Senior Citizens, Te Tari Kaumātua (2014). Report on the Healthy Ageing Strategy (2001). Ministry for Social Development: Wellington, New Zealand. 

Ministry of Social Development (MSD). (2011). Positive ageing goals and key actions.  Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). (2009). Demographic Shift: The future demand for paid caregivers in a rapidly ageing society. Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Labour, 1-34.

Russell, C. 2021. Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD): Looking back to look forward, In conversation with John McKnight about the heritage of ABCD and its place in the world today, (3rd Edition). Published independently, eBookPartnership: London, England.

The Image Library

Each of the workshop participants received a copy of this Image Library, which provided suggestions for techniques, such as ways to use colour to illustrate emotion, to support the participants creation of their art works. However, as suggested in the Image Library the artworks in it weren’t offered as suggestions for the way their artworks should look.

Download here