Kawerau paper mill closure made 160 people redundant - now, most have jobs

The closure in June 2020 of the paper mill in Kawerau left 160 people out of jobs, forcing its workers to find new careers.

For Hori Richmond, when the news came he would be without work he was heartbroken.

"It was more of a heartache impact, because it has been generations of families."

After years of working at the paper mill, Richmond has found a new career, starting a plumbing and gas fitting apprenticeship. He told Newshub he loves the variety.

"You could be at one job for 15 minutes, you could be at a job for half a day or all day, and I like that. And back in the van, 15-minute job, and you're onto another one."

Kawerau only exists because of the historic mill. The town was established to service it, but as the world became digital the demand for paper dropped, meaning the mill couldn't survive. 

For Grant McKenzie, the mill is all he knew. He hadn't worked anywhere else, and now he is milking cows. 

"Jesus Christ, the last time I was in the cowshed I was an 18-year-old - that was 50 years ago."

Grant worked at the mill for a decade and expected to retire at the mill and once he was made redundant, he spent months finding a new career.

"I love it, oh 18th of December it'll be two months and I've lost about 8kg." 

When the historic mill was set to close, some feared the worse. It's a town many associate with low unemployment, gangs and crime - but nearly all of those made redundant have found work. 

Hori told Newshub being forced to find work has forced him to grow up. 

"I think it creates a good shift in a man to able to step up, you know? Now I've got to find something else for my family."

For McKenzie, he couldn't be happier. 

"As long as I stay healthy and fit, I'll see 65 - and hey, if I'm still alright, I'll still work here."