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Kate Russell ONZM FFINZ

Kate is the Programmes and Partnerships Manager for Parks at the Christchurch City Council. Previous to this role, Kate held CEO positions in the not for profit sector, leading Cystic Fibrosis NZ and the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation for a total of fifteen years and sitting on a number of Boards. 

Kate was recognised for services to governance and health in 2016 with an ONZM, having served on several government advisory boards, including chairing the Pharmac Consumer Advisory Board for six years, serving as President of the NZ Fundraising Institute and being awarded a fellowship of the Institute in 2010.


A community development and governance specialist, Kate now leads a Parks team dedicated to community action in parks, great visitor experiences, cadetships, apprenticeships and work experience opportunities in parks and environmental education for primary and secondary students.

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Ian Soper 

Ian is a career horticulturist and parks professional with a focus on Grade 1 Amenity Horticulture. Providing quality places and spaces to communities is his driver. Ian is in his sixteenth year with the Gore District Council. A role he took on in 2005. Ian is about to embark on the next stage of his career with a move to the Ashburton District Council in April 2021, where he will take up the role of Open Spaces Manager. This role will again bring to the fore Ian's desire to provide top-quality parks and reserves to his new community.


Ian has a lifelong association with horticulture. Starting out as a school-boy in a garden centre, breaking down seed and fertiliser into smaller retail-sized saleable bags, then moving onto an apprenticeship in Horticulture and Gardening with Wallis's Nurseries on the Taieri, Ian became Trade Qualified. Ian's career then flowed through the retail and contracting sectors of horticulture before resettling into amenity horticulture in the Nelson /Tasman Region. Ian worked for contractors Excel Corporation then Sicon Ltd (Selwyn District Councils trading entity), undertaking maintenance for primarily Tasman District Council and Nelson City along with numerous other commercial maintenance and landscaping contracts. At Sicon Ian's role was Horticultural Manager overseeing 40+ staff in depots at Nelson, Richmond, Motueka, and Takaka. Ian says, "building close working relationships with like-minded colleagues in these Councils was immensely satisfying".


Latterly,  looking after and delivering a wide array of recreational pursuits and services in parks, reserves and cemeteries is Ian’s primary focus. The in-house operational model is Ian's preference and speciality. Ian has built a large collegial network across New Zealand and has been heavily involved in various industry organisations. Being a regional branch chair of New Zealand Recreation Association (NZRA) and regional representative on the NZRA Regional Advisory Group. When it comes to leadership, Ian has been heavily involved with one team of colleagues that have grown the New Zealand Parks Leaders Forum (PLF). From humble beginnings with Parks Forum's exit,  PLF is now a fully-fledged entity that supports parks professionals nationwide and beyond. Ian has been the Chair of Finance for the  PLF since its inception.



Maria Barrie

Maria Barrie is the Unit Director of Parks & Recreation at Hamilton City Council.  Maria says it is an incredible privilege to lead a fantastic and diverse team of 140 parks professionals who manage the park's assets, plan for the future of parks in Hamilton, maintain the places and spaces, grow plants, and look after the cities cemetery and crematorium.


Maria is passionate about the Parks Industry,  the work we do in play, active recreation and providing places and spaces for our communities to thrive.  She also particularly enjoys seeing people grow and succeed in a variety of career paths.  It is a wonderful industry within which most people, including herself, absolutely love what they do.


At home Maria enjoys gardening, with a never-ending list of things to do on a semi-rural property, following her daughters various sporting pursuits and getting around to see what our beautiful country has to offer.

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Geoff Canham 

Geoff is the Convenor for the Parks Leaders Forum and is a Principal Parks and Recreation Specialist and Accredited Parks and Recreation Professional (ARPro) and Certified Parks Professional international (CPPI). Geoff runs GCC, a specialist parks and recreation consultancy. Geoff has 37 years’ experience in parks agency/ local government parks and recreation with New Zealand and international experience in parks and recreation leadership, planning and project management as a specialist consultant since 2006. Previous to this, Geoff worked for five local authorities in the parks/ environment field, four of which being in New Zealand, including eight years with Tauranga City Council as Parks and Leisure infrastructure Manager. Geoff has assisted DOC on strategic projects for Heritage and Visitor Management since 2018 and undertakes Recreation Assessment evidence work at an Environment Court and Judicial Review Level. Geoff sits on a Ministerial Review Panel for the Minister of Conservation to assist with the consideration of classifications on DOC land.


Geoff was an official guest of the U.S Department of Agriculture for presentations in Washington DC, and latterly in Canberra as an official guest of the Australian Federal Government, both on ‘co-design with indigenous peoples’ on subject matter to effect joint environmental outcomes. Geoff has also participated in review processes for whole of landscape scale projects for Californian National Parks Agencies. Geoff has given over 15 Conference presentations in New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S, has had over 10 articles published and is the recipient of two NZRA industry awards.      


Geoff currently volunteers for the Waiariki Park Region initiative and serves on the Maungatautiri Reserve Committee (Predator free Sanctuary Mountain), the BOP Envirohub Board and convenes the New Zealand Parks Leaders Forum. Geoff has performed the role of industry mentor for the New Zealand Recreation Association (NZRA) and an international Peer Reviewer for Parks Agencies and a peer reviewer for Sport New Zealand. Geoff has held two Chair roles for strategic and regional roles for NZRA (formerly the chair for the NZRA National Peer Review Panel and formerly the chair for the Regional Advisory Group (to advise the NZRA Board)) and is the current Chair of the Industry Accreditation Board for the NZRA. Geoff was also the NZRA Central Region chairman for 17 years. In 2013 Geoff was awarded the Ian Galloway Memorial Cup for Excellence and Outstanding Contribution to the Wider Parks Industry.

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Board Member 

Amanda Cox

World class parks need world class leaders, and for two decades now Amanda’s  leadership learning journey has been centred in the parks sector and as part of local government.  


Unlike other parks leaders, Amanda’s entry to the sector was a bit “out of left field”; she began her involvement as marketing and design team leader in Greater Wellington Regional Council’s Parks team. Seeking to grow her management and leadership skills from the early days, Amanda was soon involved in NZRA, the Parks Forum and most other opportunities to learn and connect available through the sector and more latterly through Taituara  (formerly SOLGM) as a senior manager in Greater Wellington. She became the GW Parks Manager in 2011, leading the team which manages the Wellington regional parks network.


Following the winding up of the Parks Forum in 2014, Amanda was one of a core of parks leaders who sought to retain and grow the network of NZ parks leaders which had emerged through its tenure. A recipient of the 2016 SOLGM Leadership in Practice Scholarship, Amanda has long been convinced of the value of professional connections as a foundation for resilience, stimulation and growth in one’s own capability. She was instrumental in the eventual formation of the NZ Parks Leaders Forum entity, becoming its inaugural Chair and its establishment as a Special Interest Group of Taituara.


In 2020, Amanda was honoured to be the first recipient of the NZ Parks Leaders Forum Outstanding Parks Leader Award.


Board Member 

Bill Steans

Dip Hort Mgt; NDH: FRA (Fellow Recreation Aotearoa), FRIH (Fellow Royal NZ Institute of Horticulture)


Currently Patron Timaru Horticultural Society, Member of Yardstick Advisory Group, Member of World Urban Parks and Recreation Aotearoa. (Previously Regional Advisor to Recreation Aotearoa Board for Northern South Island).


Bill has also been an office bearer and trustee in various community groups as well as holding management roles in a number of South Island Parks Agencies and has previously operated a landscape contracting business. He has also performed Acting GM roles in both Community Services and Engineering Services groups of Council.


Bill has been in his current role since 1988 which encompasses parks, cemeteries, commercial forestry, streetscapes, and cycling and walking trails.

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Board Member 

Michael Ayrton

Michael Ayrton is the Park Director of the Cornwall Park Trust Board. Michael was raised as a youngster in Rawene on the Hokianga Harbour, Northland, and then attended Auckland Grammar School from 1975 to 1979. In 1980, he joined the New Zealand Forest Service and undertook training in Forest Management, including studying science at Auckland University and Parks and Recreation at Lincoln.


After completing his studies, he worked as a Recreation Planner for the then Forestry Corporation in their Auckland office, followed by a similar role with the Department of Conservation. From 1989 to 1991 he was Senior Ranger at Wenderholm Regional Park for the Auckland Regional Authority.


In 1991 Michael was appointed to the position that he has held to the present day: Park Director for the Cornwall Park Trust Board.


Michael has played an active role in many industry-related organisations, including:

  • Membership of the Parks Forum, being appointed a Board Member in 2008; Deputy Chair of Parks Forum

  • Active membership of the New Zealand Arboriculture Association

  • Membership of the Unitec Institute of Technology Horticultural Advisory Committee for three years

  • Trustee of Highbrook Park, Manukau City

  • New Zealand Michael Ayrton joined the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture (RNZIH) (The Institute) in 1993 and since then has contributed much to this organisation. For nine years (1998 to 2007), he was a member of the National Executive and represented the Institute on the Board of the New Zealand Horticultural Training Organisation from 2001 to 2007. In 2000, he helped to organise a meeting of garden owners at Eden Gardens, Auckland, and this was an important step in the formation of what is now the RNZIH New Zealand Gardens Trust

  • During his time on the HITO board, and largely thanks to his input, a relationship developed between RNZIH and HITO which led, in 2004, to the formation of the RNZIH Education Trust with the aim of the Institute having an active role in promoting excellence in horticultural training. He was one of the founding board members of the Education Trust and played an active role in its management, including the establishment and extensive involvement in the Young Horticulturist of the Year competition, until standing down in 2007 in order to have more time to organise a parks conference.

  • He was admitted as an Associate of Honour to RNZIH in 2009 having rendered distinguished service to Horticulture in NZ.

  • ​Michael is the recipient of the New Zealand Arboriculture Association, Ron Flook Award in 1999 for his services to arboriculture in New Zealand and the New Zealand Ian Galloway Memorial Cup for Outstanding Services to the Parks Industry. 


Board Member 

Pippa Sommerville 

Pippa is a landscape architect by training and has been with Auckland Council for seven years. She always had a passion for the environment, and is currently completing a Masters in Landscape Architecture with a focus on how public space will support urban life when we are not reliant on fossil fuels for energy. Pippa currently leads a team of parks specialists and graduates who have portfolios that focus on the strategic direction of parks in Tamaki Makaurau.