Occupational Therapy

Learner Community Projects

Does your community have a goal it would like to achieve, where the input of creative problem-solvers with a passion for activity and wellbeing could help?

Student Community Projects Header

How can Occupational Therapy learners help you?

Does your community have a goal it would like to achieve, where the input of creative problem-solvers with a passion for activity and wellbeing could help?

Third-year occupational therapy learners undertake community projects as part of their degrees. In doing so, they can provide some extra energy and effort to help your organisation accomplish its goals.

Projects may include:

  • Facilitating an event
  • Developing a resource
  • Other projects involving people and activities.

For example, your organisation might be an adolescent health service that needs an event during the school holidays. You might provide a garden for unemployed workers and are keen to establish a ‘growing things at home’ programme. You might be involved in a Māori health organisation that wants to organise a Puaka/Matariki celebration. Your kindergarten may need resources for parents.

To be suitable, your project just needs a health or disability, activity or social support focus.

What students will do

Two learners will work alongside your organisation to plan, facilitate and evaluate a project that will meet your community need. In liaison with your organisation’s contact person, they will establish clear project objectives and a plan to deliver them.

On completion, the learners will be evaluated on their planning, the work they undertook and the extent to which the completed project meets your needs.

Your role

This project requires learners to work in partnership with agencies and organisations, helping them meet their needs. Therefore you will have an understanding of your own requirements and a willingness to work with learners to help achieve these outcomes.

If you are an organisation selected for the community project, you will

  • Allocate a contact person who can make decisions and things happen
  • Contribute, in person, to the “Project Launch” by providing necessary information
  • Be available to the learner during their planning process
  • Find any required budget for the project (which does not include learners’ or lecturers’ time)
  • Contribute to the project evaluation and each learner’s evaluation
  • Attend a presentation from the learners about the project outcome.

Project support

The projects are undertaken by third year learners. We expect you will be able to work together to establish one another’s needs and achieve a successful outcome.

In addition, a lecturer from the School of Occupational Therapy oversees each project to help ensure things go smoothly. The lecturer is available for advice and support and will provide project supervision for the learners. They are responsible for evaluating the learners’ performance alongside your contact person.


As well as helping your organisation achieve important outcomes, many projects will result in a report, photograph album or memory book. These provide a record of the project and recommendations for how a similar exercise could be undertaken in the future.

These can help your organisation capture the learning from the project and make any further initiatives even easier.

Contact details

The School of Occupational Therapy contact lecturer is:

The School of Occupational Therapy contact lecturer is:

Examples of past learner projects

Blind Low Vision NZ
People who are both deaf and blind will be able to learn what strategies work for others in similar circumstances.

Blind Low Vision NZ recognises that people who suffer dual sensory loss of hearing as well as vision find the world that much more complicated to navigate. Michelle Holland is one of the Deafblind Coordinators who help support this group of about 800 people in New Zealand.

Occupational Therapy learners Kerri Batin and Esther Taofiga undertook research into the unique needs of the deafblind, including interviewing five deafblind people to hear their stories. The interviewees were asked how they overcame issues they experienced, to share tips and tricks that might help others too. There was a focus on negotiating their physical environment and using technology, and Te Whare Tapa Whā, which will help fill gaps in information which was already available to Blind Low Vision NZ.

The results of this research will be incorporated into an education package, and will also support an application for a grant to build an online platform that provides easy access to that education package.

February 2022

Connections Centre
An interdisciplinary learner project is supporting people with disabilities in meaningful work collecting, sorting, and shredding coloured milk bottle tops.

The Connections Centre offers supportive day programs for people living with physical and intellectual disabilities and their whānau. They aim to assist service users to follow their interests and develop engagement within the community. Connections is also passionate about recycling and minimising waste. They aim to repurpose products that might normally end up in the landfill.

An exciting new project will simultaneously:

  • provide meaningful work for Connections' service users which includes visible engagement with society, and 
  • provide an opportunity for milk bottle tops to be recycled, reducing waste going to landfill. 

Two Occupational Therapy learners, Ana Amador-Preciado and Alex Potter, worked with Connections to help design and set up the service, with collection points in stores for people to drop off their milk bottle tops. Connections service users will visit the stories to collect the bottle tops. The bottle tops will be cleaned and sorted by colour and plastic type, so that the shredded plastic will be more suitable for recycling.

The shredding machine has been built to a Dutch design by our Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Trades learners and their supervising staff with assistance from our EPICentre technicians. It incorporates a range of safety features to protect users. The machine has been donated to Connections Centre to be used by their service users for shredding the plastic milk bottle tops.

November 2022

Waitati School
Occupational Therapy learners helped Waitati School plan and prepare for restoration of a wetland on a damp part of their site.

Waitati School has a piece of unused land that is often damp or flooded. The Principal's vision for this land was to restore a wetland, that would provide both a space for quiet reflection and a place for children to learn and play. This would be a sustainability project that would also deliver wellbeing and learning outcomes.

Occupational Therapy learners applied the Five Finger Framework to help the school progress this project: considering the research evidence, expert advice, information provided by the School (principal, staff, pupils and their whanau), the relevant policy and regulatory framework, and their own experience. 

As well as gathering input from the School community, our learners organised information for the Principal such as funding and council guidelines. They also networked with the community to gather resources and materials, arranging for Placemakers and Nichol’s Garden Centre to donate resources when the school is ready to proceed with the site development.

May 2022

Age Concern
Knowing where to walk is a step in the right direction.

Dunedin has a wide range of walkways available to the residents, and walking is known to have physical, mental and social health benefits for all. However as people age their fitness levels and mobility can deteriorate which means some walkways might not be suitable for them.

Two Occupational Therapy learners, Anna Adam and Amber Barry, worked with Age Concern to assess the physical accessibility of Dunedin walkways. They began with a survey of people aged over 60 through the Octagon Club. Survey participants had a range of ages and various levels of fitness. Most of them used a car to access walkways. The survey identified a need for more toilets and seating on walkways.

Anna and Amber then carried out analysis of the most accessible walkways. They considered location and accessibility by bus, the length and gradient of the walkway, the track surface, whether there were toilets and seating available, and any other facilities and hazards.  All of this information has been compiled into a booklet which will be available from Age Concern to help older people make an informed choice about where to walk.

September 2020

Leslie Groves
Older people with cognitive issues benefit from engaging activities.

Leslie Groves is a not-for-profit charitable organisation in Dunedin which provides residential care for those in need, particularly the elderly. Leslie Groves also provides a day programme for people who are living in the community with cognitive issues. Alexa Andrew at Leslie Groves asked if our Occupational Therapy students could help develop the day programme.

Occupational Therapy learners Prue Boult and Kelsey Bennett started by attending the programme on four days to observe what was already being done. Their recommendations to strengthen the programme included:

  • There was an opportunity to integrate more with rest home residents.
  • The programme would benefit from more sensory elements.
  • An alternative activity could be available rather than only offering one option at a time.
  • Activities should be designed to cater for different levels of ability.
  • There was an opportunity to design activities to build on what had been done the previous week.

Prue and Kelsey also investigated options for group outings, with a focus on accessibility and fun. They identified nine possibilities for consideration by Leslie Groves including a private art workshop, a tool demonstration, the Botanical Gardens, the SPCA, the Sports Hall of Fame and Toitū Otago Settlers Museum.

The project was well received by both the current facilitators of the day program and Alexa. The proposed community outings could also be used with the wider community of Leslie Groves' residents. Our learners supplied Leslie Grove with detailed manuals on what improvements they could make and the research evidence to back this up.

March 2020

Waitaki District Council
How can we help non-drivers to get around?

The proportion of older residents living in Waitaki district is higher than the New Zealand average, and higher still in the small rural communities outside of Oamaru. The World Health Organisation has identified that transport is a key factor in being an age-friendly community, because lack of transport is a barrier to community engagement and can contribute to social isolation.

Two of our Occupational Therapy learners, Samantha Haley and Zoe Orme, undertook a research project with the Waitaki District Council, studying this issue of transport for older residents. One initiative that is working well is the Waitaki Valley Vehicle Trust. The Trust has three vehicles and 20 volunteers who help people get up and down the valley, where there is no public bus service. The learners' recommendations included replicating this in other parts of the district.

Sam and Zoe presented their results to the Positive Ageing Group in Oamaru on 7 November 2019. Their report was positively received. Our learners also produced a booklet about life without a car, to help meet a need for information about accessibility options.

April 2020

Rehabilitation Centre, Southern District Health Board
Two Occupational Therapy learners have given a small internal courtyard a new lease of life.

The Rehabilitation Centre at Dunedin Public Hospital has adult patients stay from two weeks to three months during recovery. The facility has a small courtyard that, at the start of this project, was underutilised. Occupational Therapy learners Ruby Coers and Kelsey Alexander investigated the potential therapeutic and functional uses of the courtyard, to make it more beneficial for rehabilitation patients.

Kelsey and Ruby produced a design for the area which was approved by the Centre's occupational therapist, Mason Anderson. They then negotiated to secure the resources they needed and set about implementing their design:

  • Sponsorship of $1000 from Mitre 10 was used to buy plants and other resources for the courtyard. Kelsey and Ruby chose low maintenance flax and hebes, and scented herbs like mint and lavender. 
  • With Mason, the learners tidied up the courtyard themselves and put in the new plants, some in a raised vegetable garden. They also installed solar lights and a birdfeeder, and levelled the pavers for safe access by patients.
  • A local Menz Shed made a picnic table, at which four people could sit in wheelchairs.
  • Lack of secure anchor points for a shade sail meant that they had to use a sun umbrella instead. 
  • The Oamaru Stroke Support Group donated funds for purchase of a new wheelchair accessible barbecue and 3m gazebo.
  • The Southern District Health Board is in the process of having a wheelchair ramp built.

An opening ceremony for the new courtyard was held on 3 September 2020. Mason Anderson says:

"The ceremony brought all community supporters together to acknowledge their kind contributions. Often community groups don't get to see what their support means to patients of the ward. This gave patients an opportunity to say thank you in person. This project placement has been a huge success for both the students and the patients, we look forward to offering project placements to students again."


October 2020

Project Bruce, Milton
Our Occupational Therapy learners carried out two initiatives in partnership with a community organisation.

Project Bruce is a community-led development scheme focussed on enhancing Milton and surrounding small communities in South Otago. The organisation is building resilience and resourcefulness through connecting people and groups, and organising workshops, training, activities and events.

Two teams of Occupational Therapy learners have been working with Project Bruce. Christy Barron and Meg Hodgson supported the fledgling Milton MenzShed, where people can gather to pursue their hobbies, use their skills to make things for the community, and enjoy social interaction at the same time. Christy and Meg helped raise awareness of the MenzShed through media and an open day on 7 November 2019. They also initiated a campaign to gather tools and safety equipment for the MenzShed.

The second group, Rachel Lester & Sinead O’Leary-Burrow, organised Milton Free Day, on Sunday 10 November 2019. The object was to bridge the gap between people and local services, but they also wanted to help meet necessities and connect the community at an inclusive free event. During the Milton Free Day many local businesses provided services for free. Donated baking, books and stationery were also available for free, and a bike fixing station was arranged. The event was a success with over 200 attendees. Feedback indicated they loved the community feel of the event and the opportunities that the event provided.

February 2020

Disability Information Service
Up-to-date advice is available for those living with disability.

The Disability Information Service provides information, advice and support services to Otago people with disability, older people, their families/whanau and the community. For people living with disability, the move from living at home to living independently, and leaving school, are both significant transition points. They often occur around the same time as part of a transition into adulthood.

Two Occupational Therapy learners, Sophie McGregor and Grace Vernal, worked with the Disability Information Service on this issue. They started by researching what was involved in transition, and then investigated what options people had and what support services were available to assist them.

Sophie and Grace produced an information booklet that provides information about funding, advocacy, social relationships, transport, sport and recreation, cultural services. The booklet includes checklists of things to think about on leaving school and/or leaving home, and will be available in both print and electronic form.

January 2020

Otago Multiple Sclerosis Society
Two of our Occupational Therapy students have been helping people with Multiple Sclerosis get into gardening.

The Otago Multiple Sclerosis Society is a non-profit organisation which is a support service for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis and their families. The MS Otago group has around 300 members from Oamaru down to Balclutha and inland to Wanaka. The aim of MS Otago is to empower people with Multiple Sclerosis by providing them with support, education, information and skills to participate actively in the community in ways that are meaningful to them.

After considering the needs of the members of MS Otago and researching options, Occupational Therapy learners Zoe Mulcahy and Emma Thomas undertook to improve the connectedness of this community by enabling members to engage in a meaningful occupation of gardening. Supervised by Lecturer Sarah Redfearn, Zoe and Emma facilitated four one-hour workshops to plan with the group on how to revamp an existing raised garden in a sustainable way that can be used by all clients. They educated group members about tools/aids/adaptations that can be utilized to enable members to participate in this meaningful activity. They also made connections with YouthGrow and with the horticultural department at Otago Polytechnic, to partner with MS Otago by providing plants, compost, and knowledge to reestablish the garden, and to ensure sustainability of the garden beyond the students' involvement.

Gardening provides physical and psychological benefits, and social benefits could also be gained through the sharing of knowledge and skills amongst group members by providing a common interest. The aim was to produce a sustainable garden that can be used by members year round. 

January 2019

Green Island Shed
Occupational Therapy learners have helped the new Green Island Shed engage local children.

The Green Island Shed has been recently established with the goal of providing a safe environment for people to meet, gain life skills, and undertake community projects to enhance Green Island. Green Island Shed coordinator Pip Weber worked with a team of Occupational Therapy learners to begin to engage children with the Shed.

The two students, Kadison Casey and Grace Macdonald, organised an event for children at the Shed. For this first event eight children attended with their parents. Under supervision the children constructed and decorated birdboxes. The 8- to 12-year-old children enjoyed learning new skills and parents were also enthusiastic about the event. An added bonus is that such events also help people in the community get to know each other and feel a sense of belonging in the community.

The learners were careful not to run the event themselves but to support the Shed members to do so, to help ensure such events will continue to be held in future.  The learners recommend a social media site and/or email address be set up to help facilitate Shed event communications.

February 2019

Age Concern
Dunedin's older people will benefit from work by our Occupational Therapy learners.

Age Concern Otago is an independent charitable organisation dedicated to supporting older people. Age Concern Otago promotes healthy, active and positive ageing for people over 65, celebrating and advancing the wellbeing of Otago’s older people.  To carry out these purposes Age Concern Otago appreciates the support of many volunteers, including teams of our Occupational Therapy learners who worked with Age Concern Otago on three different projects during 2018.

A couple of learners researched sexual intimacy for older adults, an important topic on which there has been little information readily available. They produced a booklet, "Age and Intimacy", which was tastefully done and provides information for older people about sexual intimacy including sexual health. This booklet will be widely distributed by Age Concern Otago, to rest homes, doctors' surgeries, and the Southern District Health Board.

Another learner team investigated why Age Concern Otago's mobility scooter training sessions were not better attended. They explored the barriers to attendance and designed a process for Age Concern Otago to use going forwards, to help ensure this service reached people who would benefit from it.

One long-term goal of Age Concern Otago is for Dunedin to be recognised as an age-friendly city. Some of the learners gathered information about what was involved to meet the World Health Organisation criteria, and learned from Hamilton's experience as New Zealand's only age-friendly city currently. They also engaged with the Southern District Health Board's Portfolio Manager for Older Person's Health and won the DHB's support. The learners' report set out a process for Age Concern Otago to use to start on the journey of Dunedin becoming an age-friendly city. Because the Dunedin City Council is a key stakeholder, the learners went the extra mile by meeting with the Mayor to sell the concept to him.

Debbie George, Operations Manager at Age Concern Otago, was enthusiastic about the learners' work for the organisation:

"All three teams were marvellous. Give them all a gold star!"

March 2019

IDEA Services
Occupational Therapy learners are helping adults with intellectual disabilities to engage in the community.

IDEA Services supports adults of all ages with intellectual disabilities to live in their own homes and live satisfying lives in the community. Our Occupational Therapy learners have partnered with the Dunedin area office of IDEA Services on three different projects to help achieve the second of these goals.

One team of learners organised an art exhibition, accompanied by a silent auction. The exhibition, held in the Hub at Otago Polytechnic, provided an opportunity to break down the stigma of intellectual disability by showcasing their artistic talents. The learners also created an opportunity for the artists with intellectual disability to build professional relationships by meeting postgraduate learners from the Dunedin School of Art to discuss their work. The silent auction resulted in the sale of 23 of the artworks, providing not just a financial benefit for the artists but also a boost in their self-esteem and confidence.

Another team of learners arranged a wearable arts fashion show for members of Switch and Artspace but in all the excitement a number of other vocational day bases jumped on board. Switch caters especially for younger adults with intellectual disabilities. The goal was to create an opportunity for community participation through creativity and collaboration. People worked in groups or individually to create their outfits, which one group member then modelled at the fashion show. The project also included collaboration with the fashion school at Otago Polytechnic, with Fashion learners also designing and modelling their own garments. Twenty-three models with intellectual disabilities modelled to their choice of music, and an audience of more than 100 attended the fashion show.

And the third team organised an inter-service sports day, at the Edgar Centre. These learners adapted a range of sports to enable people of all levels of physical ability to participate and enjoy success. Specialised equipment was kindly provided by Halberg Trust and Sport Otago. A total of about 60 people participated in the sports day, from at least two different agencies, providing valuable social and competitive experiences as well as healthy physical activities.

January 2019

Contact us

If you’re not sure what to study and would like some guidance, we’re here to help. Feel free to chat to us directly about any questions you may have.