Capturing a community

Bay of Plenty was originally named for the region’s bountiful abundance and, as each edition of Our Place has shown, there’s still plenty of important local stories to be told.

Bay of Plenty was originally named for the region’s bountiful abundance and, as each edition of Our Place has shown, there’s still plenty of important local stories to be told.

This issue marks a very special milestone for Our Place — it’s our 50th! So we’ve decided to turn the tables and interview Christopher Duffy, creative director of Our Place, as well as co-founder alongside wife Rachelle, about the journey of the magazine and the community that has made it what it is along the way.

What prompted you to start Our Place?

Chris: Our Place came to fruition as a culmination of experiences. With years of operating our event business, Little Big Events, we recognised the enduring value of print media. However, finding a publication that truly resonated with our brand proved to be a challenge. Fueled by this, we naturally gravitated towards the idea of creating our own.

An additional motivating factor stemmed from our continuous engagement in the community. Through our work, we uncovered compelling stories and encountered inspirational individuals. It became evident that there were narratives waiting to be shared—stories that might otherwise remain undiscovered. Recognising this unique opportunity, we felt a compelling drive to establish a platform that could bring these narratives to light.

How did you choose the name?

C: After considering various options, “Our Place” emerged as the most fitting choice. This title embodies a unique blend of first- and second-person narratives, allowing us to delve into topics close to our hearts — personal experiences and stories that one would typically discuss with family, friends, or guests. Simultaneously, it suggests that what we share is also yours; after all, this is your community so let’s take a closer look at the remarkable events unfolding here. Together, let’s not only celebrate but also actively support the vibrant tapestry of experiences that make this community uniquely ours.

Working out the pagination for the very first issue

Holding a magazine meeting our favourite way — over good food — with junior designer Ashlee Webster, creative director and co-founder Chris Duffy, designer and art director Stephen Kirkby and editor Sarah Nicholson

Have either of you worked in the publishing industry before?

C: While we hadn’t been specifically involved in publishing before, my background in design spans more
than 20 years, providing me with ample experience in the print process. Transitioning from supplying artwork as a designer or client to consolidating contributions from various suppliers and designing the entire magazine has been a significant shift. The intricacies that unfold during the design process have proven to be the true learning curve.

My wife, Rachelle, without prior experience in publishing, has played a pivotal role. Her natural ability to connect with people, coupled with a practical approach to work, has been instrumental in unearthing compelling stories and devising ways to enhance the magazine’s efficiency. In the realm of publishing, learning by doing has been our mantra.

We certainly had some help over the years though with the invaluable experience of Sarah Nicholson, the magazine’s editor of the past 49 issues. Her professionalism enabled us to stay focussed on the magazine’s voice and ensured a high level of journalism. Stephen Kirkby also helped in
the earlier years with design and art direction, which was indispensable.

Did you ever imagine you’d make it to 50 issues of Our Place?

C: Absolutely not! Producing a magazine involves substantial costs, and I distinctly recall feeling fortunate to reach issue 5. However, our motivation lies in recognising that, amid an era dominated by transience, people are rekindling their appreciation for the enduring allure of print and its sensory richness. Print media caters to a growing desire for
a more deliberate pace of engagement, emphasising deep immersion and thoughtful contemplation over the fleeting gratification of an endless digital scroll.

We view our magazine not merely as a publication but as a companion—a reservoir of stories that stand the test of time. With every issue, our aim is to capture moments, ideas, and perspectives that resonate beyond the immediate present, so we’re optimistic that we have, at the very least, another 50 issues in us.

What have you learnt and what challenges have you faced along the way?

C: In any business venture, challenges come in various forms, and, for us, the major hurdle was undoubtedly the impact of Covid and the ensuing lockdown. Almost overnight, we found ourselves losing virtually all distribution channels and advertising revenue. Despite the uncertainty, we recognised the inherent value we could provide, even if it meant simply keeping people connected to their community. In response, we swiftly assembled a digital platform and crafted a weekly iteration of the magazine throughout the course of a month.

The positive feedback we received during this period fueled our determination to persist with the publication, irrespective of the obstacles that came our way. It became clear that our efforts were not only appreciated but also served a crucial role in maintaining a sense of community and connection during challenging times.

Our Place is a hyper local mag, how has the BOP changed over the time you’ve been publishing it and, in turn, how has Our Place changed?

C: A significant transformation has unfolded over the past six years in the Bay of Plenty, and the culinary landscape serves as an unmistakable testament to this evolution. In retrospect, the once modest selection of dining options, where you could barely name a couple of reliable choices, has now burgeoned to over a dozen establishments, stretching from the Mount to Ōmokoroa. This culinary metamorphosis mirrors the broader shifts within our community — a community that has undergone substantial changes and embraced a newfound diversity.

Undoubtedly, not all changes have been favourable. The challenges posed by the escalating cost of living, social issues, wealth disparities, and substance abuse are among the adversities we’re grappling with. However, in the face of these challenges, we’ve discovered opportunities for growth and positive change as a publication. Our commitment to shedding light on the constructive responses of individuals and the community to these influential factors has become our guiding mission.

How, if at all, has your vision for Our Place evolved over the 50 issues?

C: Our dedication to highlighting the endeavors of individuals, organisations, and groups making a positive impact in our community remains steadfast. However, it’s crucial that we remain adaptable in our approach to sharing these stories. One initiative we take immense pride in is our Kōrero series. This series has not only allowed us to delve into specific Māori stories but has also provided a platform to champion local Māori writers and promote the use of te reo Māori.

As we move forward, we’re committed to expanding the scope of our coverage and continuing to foster a diverse and inclusive representation in our storytelling. We believe in the power of storytelling to connect communities and bridge understanding.

By showcasing the unique perspectives and contributions of different individuals and groups, we aim to build a richer tapestry of narratives that reflects the vibrant essence of our community.

It’s a tricky ask, but what are some of your most memorable features?

C: Over the past 50 issues, we’ve had the privilege of sharing countless stories with our readers, each one holding a unique significance.

One particularly cherished feature was ‘Carved in Stone’ from issue 43, where Te Kaha graciously opened his home to take us through the intimate and spiritual journey of carving pounamu.

The personal connection we’ve cultivated with Te Kaha and his wife Cristina added a special touch to this experience.

Another standout moment was captured in issue 47 with Shona Tāwhiao and Paora Tiatoa, marking the inception of our Kōrero series. Delving into their narratives offered a profound glimpse into the rich tapestry of their lives.

In issue 24, we had the pleasure of talking with Owen Dippie, who, despite preferring the shadows, graciously invited us into his private realm. It was a unique opportunity to explore the contrast between the private nature of his artistic process and the public nature of his large-scale works. A collaborative effort on a re-worked cover for that particular issue added an extra layer of significance to the feature as well.

Rachelle Duffy, Shona Tāwhiao and Paora Tiatoa behind the scenes for the first feature in our Kōrero series.

What about the journey you’ve taken with Our Place makes you the proudest?

C: It’s challenging to distill it down to a single aspect. Perhaps it’s the genesis of the idea, cultivated and nurtured despite the myriad challenges. It might be the heartening inquiries from readers, anticipating the next issue. Or, the humbling notification from a cafe or business proclaiming the swift depletion of their copies within the initial week of arrival. Yet, beyond these tangible markers, what truly fills us with gratitude and pride is the privilege we hold — the privilege to tell stories that matter.

These stories, woven into the fabric of our publication, carry the weight of significance. They resonate with the pulse of our community, capturing moments that might otherwise slip into obscurity. As we continue this journey, we aspire to delve even deeper, uncovering narratives that spark conversations and resonate with the shared experiences of our readers.