For Haylie Fry and Hannah Te Whata, their new business, A Slice of Poutini Ltd, is about much more than just carving. It’s about their common desire for a space of connection and creativity – a place where they can stay in touch with nature, other artists and carvers and the community they live in.

Based in Westport, A Slice of Poutini was established by the pair in February 2022 and now, thanks to WAVE funding from Te Pūtahitanga, they are realising their dream of creating together, telling people’s stories and connecting to others with tangible taonga, at the same time being parents to tamariki and working towards self-sustainability.

Along with their combined life skills, Hannah, (Ngāpuhi), 28 and Haylie, 37 both bring a passion for Te Ao Māori to their new business. For Haylie, it is also about helping her two teenage daughters connect to their Ngāi Tahu whakapapa and cultural heritage; and for Hannah, it is a continuation of her whānau heritage – she is a descendant of many generations of kaiwhakairo and her Māoritanga has given her a passion for being grounded in te taiao.

Prior to establishing their business, Hannah spent several years working in social services, focussing on youth work, community governance, strategy planning and policy writing.

“It was while I was working in social services that I realised that everything we need to know, we can learn from nature. That’s what brought me to the West Coast. It’s one of the few untouched places we have left where you can still experience a strong connection to the whenua,” she says.

Haylie has a different set of skills. She has been a self-taught hobby carver for around three years, fitting it around her commitments as president of a West Coast playcentre, working in early childhood education and as a chef.

“Hannah has an amazing set of business skills, whereas I tend to go with the flow more.  We complement each other perfectly,” she says.

Haylie, who has completed a workshop with Katene Campbell of Bones and Stones in Hokitika, has been authenticated as a carver by Ngāi Tahu; and Hannah has completed Tai Poutini Polytechnic’s respected Hard Stone and Jade Carving, level 4 (the New Zealand Certificate in Arts and Design), in Greymouth, with Sheree Warren and James Washer.

“I love encouraging people into carving. There’s something special about taking a rough stone and bringing out the beautiful taonga that sits inside it – that’s the beauty of creation,” says Haylie.

Now, with WAVE 16 funding, the pair are excited about making their dreams happen.

“I’ve talked about this for a long time but we never thought we’d actually be doing it so soon,” says Hannah.

“WAVE funding has given us the opportunity to set up a proper carving studio. We’re learning as we go and funding has given us the financial support we needed while we do that. It’s empowered us to follow our dreams.”

For Haylie that’s meant redesigning her back garden shed into a practical, functional workshop with the carving tools and machinery they needed.

“We’ve had builders, engineers and electricians here, bringing us up to scratch. Without funding, I would still be ‘hobbying away’ in the back shed; but now we can share our work space and look ahead to creating a collaborative community space and perhaps one day, a gallery with a workshop behind it.”