Rival patched gang members come together over a BBQ in new mentoring service

In rare gatherings, patched members from rival gangs are coming together without violence to make peace over a barbecue.

Former Whakatāne police officer Waata Heathcote says patched members from different gangs come together for rare conflict-free gatherings. Source: Breakfast

Gatherings, like the one Breakfast went along to this morning in Rotorua, are part of a mentoring service, set up by a former Whakatāne police officer, to break the cycle of intergenerational violence in gangs.

Waiariki Whānau Mentoring started in Whakatāne, but now the Government has asked the organisation to push services across the whole of Bay of Plenty and Waikato region.

Waata Heathcote, who has worked as a cop, in social development and at Oranga Tamariki, this morning told Breakfast those who take part in the activities like today's barbecue are after something simple - love.

"What these young men and these families want is to be loved, it's as simple as that," he told Breakfast.

"For some of them love is being punched in the face, for some of them love is being sexually molested or raped.

"So what I am here to share is that all they want is to be loved by people that are going to give an authenticity, are there to give a heart in terms of understanding who they are, then believing in them which gives us the ability to be able to actually work with them, but to start to transform them with the support that we offer."

When asked about his unique approach to tackling gang crime, Heathcote said now is the time for some "real mahi" and to try new things or else there will be the same outcomes.

"We've come used to a system that is there to persecute people, to condemn people. What we are saying at Waiariki Whānau Mentoring is we want to put a stop to that continuous cycle by doing it in a way that's healing and humanising for our whānau."

Heathcote also said gang members are typically "tarnished with the same brush", but he said they wanted to show they're not all the same.

"We live in a world where people continue to be condemned, continue to be judged. What we're saying is until you actually understand the narratives in the stories behind the whakapapa of these people then you actually get a realisation as to why they join a gang.

"They're our whānau, irrespective of a patch."

Heahcote said the organisation is not about advocating for members to remove their patches, but rather change from within themselves.

"We've got three different gangs in the background there that would normally fight against each other, they would normally cause chaos in the communities, but I'm talking about the whānau that we're supporting across these districts, they are the whānau that are willing to make the change.

"We are working with the whānau that are wanting transformation."