Isabelle Poff-Pencole: Civic Award winner 2016

Published on 22 September 2016

Photo of 2016 Civic Award winner Isabelle Poff Pencole

Isabelle Poff-Pencole has helped people from all over the world settle in Palmerston North. “In our world it’s really important to grow and support a well-balanced multicultural society.”

When Isabelle Poff-Pencole emigrated to Palmerston North from France in the 1990s she didn’t know anybody. But before long she was deeply immersed in the local community.

Alliance Francaise

She joined the local Alliance Francaise and before long became deeply involved with the committee and growing the Alliance into a thriving multicultural organisation.

Today she is the volunteer general manager, overseeing a wide range of activities from supporting migrants and refugees through to running the French Community Library.

“We’ve grown hugely over the years and now provide support for migrants and refugees; teach in schools and provide support for French teachers; run a French language centre and a community library; and organise a huge range of events from exhibitions to panel discussions to the annual French film festival.”

The Alliance Francaise is not just for French speakers. Anybody is welcome at their events which are designed to promote and support multiculturalism; something Isabelle is extremely passionate about.

New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters

Isabelle was instrumental in setting up free French literary classes for French-speaking refugees from the Congo to ensure they didn’t lose their native language, and has supported the social integration of people from diverse ethnicities through her work with the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters.

When Isabelle emigrated to New Zealand in 1997 she was the first qualified translator and interpreter in the country. She was snapped up by the Society and has volunteered her time at the local and national level ever since.

“It’s very difficult to understand the environment when you move to a new place. To be happy and accepted you need cultural, linguistic, and social support.”

She has helped make the delivery of translation and interpreting services in New Zealand more professional. This makes it easier for minority groups to access government services.

“Refugees and migrants need access to translation and interpreting services so they can feel safe and communicate in difficult situations. We often help them deal with government agencies, the police, the courts, and the hospital.”

Isabelle’s volunteer work is a full-time commitment but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s been my life and I’ve loved it.”


Alliance Francaise Palmerston North

  • 1997-present: Member
  • President: 10 years
  • Vice president: 3 years
  • Secretary/Treasurer: 3 years

Federation of Alliances Francaises of New Zealand

  • 2000-present: Member
  • President: 7 years
  • Vice president: 3 years
  • Honorary life member

New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters

  • 2001-present: Member
  • President: 1 year
  • Vice president: 4 years
  • Treasurer: 7 years

French Films Arts Trust

  • 2013-present: Trustee