Finding a purpose through serving others

There was a time when Brent Christensen wouldn’t leave the house. When he wouldn’t speak to anyone. When he didn’t have any friends. That’s all changed now. Emile Donovan reports.

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Brent Christensen: model volunteer and “real legend”. PHOTOS: Emile Donovan.

Fourteen years ago Brent walked through the doors of the Delta Community Support Trust – a Christchurch community organisation that helps those in need. He was looking for a hot lunch and a sense of community. He ended up finding a purpose.

Brent volunteers at Delta. He has done so almost all the time he’s been going there. He’s seen the organisation grow from six or seven volunteers based next door at the North Avon Baptist Church, to the 40-strong it now boasts.

It has a café and weekly community lunch. It helps with personal development, offers financial advice, and has specialised programmes for elderly and intellectually disabled people.

Brent’s is one of their success stories.

In his own words: “I used to be real shy. I didn’t know anybody. And people…” he grimaces. “Overwhelming.”

Not that you’d know it today. When we walk into the communal café area Brent is in his zone – waving, smiling, greeting, popping over to people for a chat. He takes me to a table and introduces me to a grey-haired gentleman, Graham.

This is Emile, he explains. He’s writing an article about Delta.

What’re you writing about him for?, Graham asks. Should be writing about me – I’m much more handsome. Brent laughs. He’s in his zone.

A life of care

Brent has always been a caring person.

“I was born in Christchurch. I used to go to Burnside High School,” he says.

“My dad died when I was two years old so I didn’t actually know my dad. I used to look after my mum – I lived with her in my grandma’s house, (before it) got sold. So she moved in with me (and) I looked after her much of my life.”

Brent struggled with anxiety for many years, which inhibited his ability to socialise.

“When I first came to Delta I just kept to myself, in a council flat, kept to myself,” he says. “Then I said, ‘oh, I wouldn’t mind being involved with this community’. So I started off helping with the dishes and it just got bigger and bigger.”

His role is always changing – Brent says he likes the variety. Chiefly he runs Delta’s food bank, but he also offers an open ear to anyone who wants it, sometimes with surprising results.

“This guy came in, a real big guy, and he was really down. I said, ‘what’s wrong? Want a coffee?’ He was pretty down, not saying anything. And he started writing poems out and reading them to me. That really hit me. It was great.”

Brent also works with the Friendship Link – a companion group for Christchurch people with intellectual disabilities. He’s the official DJ of the monthly discos, held at the St Alban’s Baptist Church.

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“I play the music for them, play 80s or 90s music – Love Shack, Greased Lightning, YMCA…” he laughs. “It’s fun!”

This month’s disco is the following night, so I go along. Brent sits at the front of a large, open room with a playlist, a microphone and two glittering disco balls. About 50 people of all ages are on the dance floor, getting funky and, invariably, beaming.

It’s $7 to enter. For that, participants get two hours of disco dancing and supper – not a bad deal, by any stretch.

“Here comes the Macarena!” Brent yells into the microphone. A cheer goes up. More people get up to join the dance – including (briefly) me.

He’s right. It is fun.

A model volunteer

Tony McCahon, community development leader at the Delta Community Support Trust, has been working at Delta for 19 years, even longer than Brent. He knows him well.

“He’s a model volunteer – a real legend,” McCahon says.

“He was always incredibly honest and enthusiastic. He always wanted to please people. He fell in love with Delta straight away.”

Delta wasn’t the only thing Brent fell in love with. He and his wife Tracey met there too.

“She used to make toasties there,” Brent says.

One of Tracey’s friends introduced me to her there and I thought ‘oh, well…that’s nice!’”

Tracey and Brent were married at North Avon Baptist Church. Tony McCahon acted as pastor, and a reception for the couple was held at the community centre. Delta even filmed the event and burnt it to a DVD.

“I was up there, nervous as hell. I had all my friends there, my family. It was overwhelming.” He pauses.

“You just realise how you’re loved in a place. It blows me away, this place.”

Forever too

I ask Brent what he feels he gets out of his volunteering.
“People. The laughter. Talking. Seeing them all happy. On Fridays we have a community meal. It’s so nice seeing people chatting, so lovely. It really just makes my day.”

The young man who walked into the Trust a loner says Delta has become an irreplaceable part of his life.

“I love my work here. I love it. It’s helped me come a long way, really. If anything happened to this place I’d miss it, all the people. But it’s going to be here forever. And I’ll be here forever too.”

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Aranui Eagles coach keeps players on the right path

Talented rugby league player Longe Faalilo is helping keep young Aranui kids off the street. Joseph Chamberlain reports.

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Rugby league coach Longe Faalilo’s philosophy of hard work and determination has helped his Aranui Eagles Club team snatch the under-14 championship this season.

The win is the club’s first championship for this age level. It’s also bittersweet as their final match may have been the last time the group plays together.

Some of the young players may switch codes if, as seems likely, they’re offered rugby union scholarships as they head to secondary schools across the city.

“Now I have to compete with schools (and) to compete with rugby,” Faalilo says.

“I have to tell them, whatever is the best opportunity for you and your family, then you take it. Don’t have loyalty for me. I’m just trying to push you to be better.”

Faalilo, 27, lives in St Martins now but grew up in Aranui, which helps him to relate to his young players. He understands that living in Aranui can be difficult but uses motivation to keep his league team on the right path.

“So what I am doing is using rugby league as a vehicle to drive people to better themselves and the lives of family and friends around them,” he says.

He has followed his players, whom he dubs his “little brothers”, since they were in the under-11 competition, where he first started coaching them.

Aranui Eagles under 14 player Leo Patelo says Faalilo is more than just a coach; he is a mentor who teaches his players life skills to make them not just better players but also better people.

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“There’s a lot of temptation to lead them astray, drugs and alcohol as they go into their teenage years,” Faalilo says. “Coming from families where (there is) family violence or dad is not there. I get them into rugby league to keep them off the street, change their mentality.”

Faalilo’s commitment to his team is impressive. This is more so considering he is also captain of the Eagles premier team and coaches the Aranui High School 7s team – all on top of his full-time job.

Aranui Eagles club secretary Cathy Irwin has known Faalilo since the club started nine years ago and says he’s become one of the club’s leaders.

“He has been the one keeping the boys together, ringing them, boosting them, doing all of the stuff that our boys need.”

Aranui Eagles premiers coach Te Wairau agrees and says he’s a valuable player, to boot.

Wairau reluctantly put Faalilo on the bench this season because of an injury, but kept him in reserve, just in case.

“Lucky,” Wairau says, “… because we started losing. I put him straight out and he settled everything!”

Next winter, Faalilo will face a tough decision. Does he continue coaching his little “brothers”, or carry on playing for the premier side? Game times for the two teams are likely to clash.

Irwin hopes he will stick with the coaching.

“I think he loves playing, but he loves coaching. He might even look at eventually coaching the premiers and kids,’’ Irwin says.

Wairau thinks he will stay playing.

“He is only young. So I am pretty sure he will continue playing.”

For now, Faalilo is hedging his bets. He is determined to carry on with both jobs for the next few years and only when forced to make a choice, will he do so. And then, he says, demonstrating the leadership he has developed within his club, he will stick with coaching.




Juliet Adams: an activist and ‘facilitator of information’

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No time like the present: Juliet Adams. PHOTO: Oliver Lewis.

In 2011 she lost her job and suffered a stroke, but instead of stopping her it set in motion a chain of events that made Juliet Adams want to make the world a better place, one book at a time. Oliver Lewis reports.

Fingers extending, Juliet Adams begins counting off the groups she is involved with.

The 74-year-old is sitting in the living room of her Lyttelton house. She’s just picked her grandson up from kindergarten and later on there is a meeting with 350, a climate change organisation she shows films for.

“TPPA, minutes for the Timebank meetings, Tuesday Club with Garry Moore…”

Floor-to-ceiling windows offer commanding views over the harbour, a place Juliet has come to love since she moved here in 2007. Beside them sit two bookcases, one of which has a hand drawn sign saying LIFT library.

“It stands for Living Economies, Inspiration, Facts and Transition,” she says.

The library is a Project Lyttelton service Juliet runs to educate people about issues like sustainability, money and politics. Each Saturday she takes a trolley bag full of books down to the Lyttelton Farmers Market and encourages people to sign up. For a $20 subscription they can hire any of the books or films that have been donated or which Juliet has bought for the library herself.

She also writes a weekly newsletter for the 130-odd members, where she describes any new additions and provides information on upcoming events.

“That’s what I see as my purpose,” she says, “I’m a facilitator of information.”

Sharing inspiration

Being a teacher is nothing new to Juliet. She used to teach English in Japan and China before moving back to New Zealand in 2007 when her daughter, Jenny Garing, started a deli in Lyttelton called Ground.

What is new is the activism and community spirit that have fired her up and left her feeling like she, too, can be a mover and shaker.

“I’ve got more energy now than I did two or three years ago,” she says, energy she attributes to working with the people in Project Lyttelton, Margaret Jefferies, who started the Lyttelton Timebank, Garry Moore, and Gen de Spa, organiser of the anti-TPPA movement in Christchurch.

These people inspired her, but three things needed to happen before Juliet found the time and the motivation to become engaged herself.

In 2011 the earthquakes destroyed Ground, where she had been working seven days a week; she joined the Lyttelton Timebank; and then, only a few weeks after joining, she had a stroke.

“I had no strength,” she says, “basically I was just sitting, even walking up the stairs from the bedroom was a struggle.”

For a woman who hates being idle, it was enormously frustrating.

The stroke left her unable to earn the Timebank hours she needed to get help driving to the doctor. So, in an act of generosity, Margaret Jefferies told Juliet she could contribute to the Timebank by reading and summarising a book about the origins of the movement: No More Throw-Away People by Edgar S. Cahn.

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“It changed my life,” Juliet says.

Beforehand, Juliet – who describes herself as reserved – was never involved in the community; she had never engaged with the kinds of ideas she found herself reading about.

“It was a whole new world for her,” Jefferies says, and she seized upon it immediately.

Jefferies was the person who inspired Juliet to start the LIFT library.
Four years ago, during a national Timebanking Hui, Living Economies founding member Helen Dew ended up staying with Juliet. They got talking, and Dew happened to mention a library she had started.

During the Hui, Jefferies and Dew talked about how great it would be if Lyttelton had something similar and Juliet, who had worked as a librarian in the past, seemed like the natural candidate to run it.

Within a couple of months, the first instalment of books had been sent down from Carterton. Since then, Juliet has been a regular fixture at the Lyttelton Market and a presence across so many groups in the city that, counting them on her fingers, she loses track.

“That level of energy, it’s impressive, for anyone of any age,” de Spa says.

When told that Juliet considers her an inspiration, she goes quiet on the phone. “Wow,” she says, “it’s humbling to hear that, but believe me: we belong to a mutual appreciation society.”

The people who inspired her then, have in turn become inspired by Juliet, the 74-year-old whose striking energy and passion are benefiting both Lyttelton and the wider community through the education she offers to “make the world a better place.”

Looking up at the ceiling she stops and apologises, “I’ve noticed some cobwebs,” she says, “but I think other things are more important.”




New Brighton’s golden oldies

Monday afternoon is movie time for New Brighton’s golden oldies. Ashleigh Monk reports.

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Quintin Sumner has hosted New Brighton’s “Golden Oldies” movie afternoons for about eight years. PHOTOS: Ashleigh Monk.

Every Monday afternoon Quintin Sumner sets up chairs in neat rows, boils the jug for tea and awaits the crowd that comes for the  “Golden Oldie Movie Day”, hosted by the New Brighton Historical Society and Museum .

“We get around 20 people each week,” Sumner says.

“A lot of them are older and remember the 40’s and 50’s, the golden era of film.”

For just a $2 donation, movie-goers get a cup of tea and a biscuit before sitting down to watch classic movies like “Casablanca” and “Singin’ in the Rain”.

Sumner became the curator of the museum in 2007 and started up the movie days, attracting regulars who attended even after the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.

“People would call up and ask if the movies were on. That was before they’d even got their water or sewerage on, so it has brought people back.”

“I’ve even got a chap who is 92 and never misses it.”

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Volunteer Bob Andrews says the movies help bring New Brighton people together, especially post-quakes.

Anne Dickson, 81, has attended the movie days for years and claims to have never missed a showing, coming all the way from her house on Lincoln Road.

“I had a fall not so long ago. I broke my shoulder and I still took two buses to come to this, so there you are,” she says.

“I will never ever miss it, no matter what. It’s the highlight of my week.”

Volunteer co-ordinator at the museum Bob Andrews has  helped out with the movie days for two years.

“I’ve been on every damn committee in Brighton over the years. Two years ago my neighbour,  Becky, who is a secretary here, convinced me to be on the committee. I was just sitting at home twiddling my thumbs. I got stuck in and really enjoyed it. “

Andrews says  the movies help bring people together in the community, especially after the earthquakes.

“I just come and welcome everybody because I feel that’s very much a part of what we need to do,”

“We were a pretty tight bunch during the earthquakes. It’ll come back slowly.”

The “Golden Oldies” movie showings are held every Monday at 1:30pm at the New Brighton Historical Society and Museum.




Al Park on jamming and having a good time

Music man Al Park is more than happy to mentor up-and-coming musicians in his community. Eliza Ballantyne talks to the man who lends a helping hand to the talent pool in Lyttelton.

You may know him from his Christchurch band, Louie and the Hotsticks.

But Al Park is possibly better known as Lyttelton’s musical godfather. He’s a regular on Lyttelton’s music scene, he organises the weekly gigs for Lyttelton’s Farmers Market and he mentors many younger musicicans.

Park has lived in Lyttelton for almost 40 years. In a short walk down the township’s main street, he is stopped at least four times by locals. All of them know him by his first name.

These days, Park spends a lot of his time mentoring aspiring musicians. He says he’s “always been a bit of a mentoring kind of guy”.

It helps him give back some of the knowledge he has developed over decades in the music business.

Park says he has lived a great music life but reckons even he would have benefited from having someone say, “just do it”.  That drives him to foster new and emerging talent wherever he can.

On Wednesdays, he can be found at Lyttelton landmark the Wunderbar, “jamming and having a good time” with his “boys”  as they work on new material and techniques.

The Wunderbar is a fitting venue for Park’s masterclasses. He has tried several times to buy the local watering hole. When the last attempt failed, he looked through the tunnel and bought a bar on Dundas Street, in central Christchurch.

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Al’s Bar was demolished after the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake. PHOTO: http://www.alsbar.co.nz/

Al’s Bar became a magnet for local, national and international acts and a popular location for musos and music lovers alike.

The singer and guitarist believes the bar was popular because he took a care-free attitude towards running it. “There were no bouncers, I was the bouncer.”

During his managing days he made a point of being at the bar every night: “You cannot have Al’s Bar without Al.”

Unfortunately, like so many other businesses in Christchurch, the February 2011 earthquakes forced Al’s Bar to close its doors. Park says it was “heart breaking” to let it go but he’s not interested in starting again.

“It’s like a relationship; you have good reasons, when it is over, not to go back.”

His bar managing days may be over but his presence in the Christchurch music scene is far from finished.

Adam Hattaway, for one, is grateful to Park for all he is doing for him and his music.

From a young age Hattaway has been passionate about music, particularly singing and playing guitar. His parents introduced him to Park and for years they stayed on each other’s music radars.

When Park put a call out this year for a guitarist, Hattaway jumped at the opportunity.

“He always has excitement and enthusiasm,” Hattaway says. “He’s not negative but he’s able to tell me where I’m lacking.”

Hattaway compares Park’s mentoring style to “musical tough love.”

It’d be a lot of work for anyone, but Park, 65, shows no signs of slowing down. He’s happy to live his own “little rock and roll dream”.




Avebury House rebuilds its community standing

Avebury House is at the heart of Richmond’s rich history and its community spirit. Kaysha Brownlie visits the heritage home to check out how it is rebuilding itself as a valued community facility.

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Ruth McClintock and Sean Holmes are planning their wedding at Avebury House in December. PHOTO: Kaysha Brownlie.

Nestled amongst trees in the cul-de-sac of Evelyn Couzins Avenue, the Victorian style building was once the only building standing in the Christchurch suburb of Richmond.

First built in 1851 as a swanky residence, Avebury House has since served its community in one way or another — it has been a youth hostel, a caretaker’s headquarters and a venue for steam train exhibitions, weddings and more.

Richmond was one of the hardest hit areas during the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes and Avebury House was lucky to remain standing. Now owned by the Christchurch City Council, it was strengthened and restored to its Victorian and Edwardian colours, and reopened in 2014.

Administrator Trish Spooner says the house was bustling with people before the earthquakes, but it was different now.

“It’s slowly getting better. We are booking out with weddings, which is good.”

The land on which Avebury House sits was first owned by Dr John Seager Gundry. Later, four generations of the Flesher family lived in the grand house.

Kathy Wilson says her father was the last Flesher to live there, leaving when he was five years-old.

“We don’t have any involvement with the house now, but we do get invited to the odd thing.

“It’s the sort of thing I can take my two boys down to and show them.”

England-born Christchurch architect James Glanville designed the Victorian home and although the building has been altered many times, it was restored to its original state according to heritage guidelines.

Christchurch residents Ruth McClintock, 27, and Sean Holmes, 31, are planning their wedding at Avebury House and say they fell in love with it straight away.

“I actually grew up around this area so it’s nice to come here to have my wedding,” McClintock says.

Spooner, who has been working at the house for just over a year, says the place really grows on you: “You become very protective.”

Many community groups have begun at Avebury House. Olga Whittaker says she could not have started the quilting group Hugs All Round had it not been for the affordable space at the heritage home.

An elderly gentle exercise group also uses the building, as does the Garden City Orchestra, which will have its 10th annual Christmas concert at Avebury House this December.

Although the building has been restored, Avebury House has yet to recover its place in the Richmond community post-quakes. Spooner is hoping an annual gala, beginning next February, will bring people back.

 




Tom Davies: Mr ‘Mt Pleasant’

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Tom Davies at the Mt Pleasant Farmers Market, which he first set up four years ago. PHOTOS: Monique Steele.

For the residents of Mt Pleasant, community spirit and resilience have been imperative post-quake. One man helped bring the community together, when the only people locals could turn to were their neighbours. Monique Steele reports.

With supermarkets closed and the suburb of Mt Pleasant in turmoil after the quake, Tom Davies knew he had to act.

“My reaction to the earthquake was you don’t sit down and do nothing. ….You don’t sit down and wallow in your stress and discomfort. You get on and try to get things back to as normal as possible,” he says.

Davies’ response was to set up a farmers’ market where people could buy food and share their experiences.

The first Mt Pleasant Farmers’ Market was held at McCormacks Bay Road on March 5, 2011, only 15 days after the devastating February 2011 earthquake.

“I remember standing back and watching people hugging and kissing and talking. It’s actually really emotional thinking about what happened that day. It’s only in hindsight that you realise it was quite important,” says Davies, reflecting on the first market.

Mt Pleasant experienced severe damage in the quake. It left many residents with damaged homes and without basic services.

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Tom Davies lived in his damaged Mt Pleasant home for three years before it was repaired by EQC. PHOTO: Monique Steele

Local resident and industrial statistician Tony Aldridge created a database of 1640 Mt Pleasant houses in October, 2012, to assess damage in the area. By August, 2015, 322 houses had been demolished (80 rebuilt, 71 in construction). At least 600 houses had repairs completed and 81 houses had repairs underway in Mt Pleasant.

With locals struggling to buy food and all the supermarkets in the area closed, Davies, a Linwood College teacher, began to organise food for the community. This venture would change his life.

He established the Farmers’ Market in a parking lot near the old Mt Pleasant Memorial Community Hall, as roads were blocked and streets were covered in liquefaction.

“It was a bringing together of producers and consumers. But I didn’t look at it like that initially. I looked at it as pure and simple as we need to get food for the people. That was my priority.”

“All I did was make a few phone calls to make it happen, really. It was a typical teacher thing to do really – what do we need, how do we do it, bang bang bang, it’s done. I didn’t think of it being very special, but obviously a lot of people consider it to be very special,” he says.

He contacted suppliers and organised signs to go around the neighbourhood advertising a market to provide fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, meat and eggs.

People’s generosity was just phenomenal.

Stall holders set up their free coffee, young buskers came to play for the people, fruit, vegetable and meat stalls were set up, and the organisers prepared for around one hundred people to turn up.

“All of a sudden these people started arriving and it was just amazing to see hundreds, thousands of people suddenly arrive,” Davies says.

Offers of freebies came tumbling in; one man offered a whole cart of free apples and another free coffee.

“There was this huge outpouring of community action and community support. People’s generosity was just phenomenal,” Davies says.

“We were providing it for a week, possibly two, just to make sure the local people had food. I was still expecting at that stage that things would get – stupid, really – but to get back to some sort of normality. See, we still expected these other places to open.

“We were just an empty car park filling it up with produce and filling it up with customers. It was just a short term thing, I never expected it to go on for any length of time. But it obviously captivated an awful lot of people’s hearts and it became really established.”

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Stall owner Cam Booker, left, has been selling at the Mt Pleasant Farmers’ Market since day one and says it is his favourite market.

Davies says locals hugged and thanked him and the other people involved in the market and expected to return the following week. It has run every Saturday morning since.

“The real stories of hardship actually came from the traders, the people with the stalls, who were really worse off because they had no money.”

Fresh produce stall owner Cam Booker has been selling at the Mt Pleasant Farmers’ Market since day one and says it is his favourite market.

“It’s been good. This market is different to all the others. It’s little compared to the Lyttelton Market, but it’s the locals’ market,” says Booker.

Davies says the market gives people not only access to fresh food but an opportunity to socialise.

“It was very important to get people out of their houses and to share ….. and actually to be together, that collective spirit,” he says.

A place for the community to gather

The Farmers’ Market has given Mt Pleasant a focal point which it didn’t have before.

Derek McCullough, president of the Mt Pleasant Residents’ Association says the earthquake brought the community together and “the market is an illustration of that.”

“Tom’s a colourful character, and the market is his baby,” McCullough says.

Davies pays a tribute to the people: “I think the people here are fantastic, I knew a lot of people in the UK, but God I know so many people here, it’s unreal. I can’t go anywhere without knowing someone, I know that obviously I do a lot and a lot of people know me that way”, he says.

“My circle of friends is huge; it’s all of the community, plus the market traders and their families as well. So during that time we’ve seen births, deaths, marriages, breakups. We’ve seen it all, and I’m the biggest ‘agony aunt’ there is. They all come to me for help.”

Davies’ work in the community was recognised in 2012, when he won a Christchurch Earthquake Service Award, a year after the February earthquake.

“I feel immensely proud of it, but to me, providing food for local people is just a humanitarian thing to do. I sure as hell didn’t do it for any awards or thanks. I did it because I knew that people needed food… I’m very humbled by it, I know it means an awful lot to a lot of people.”

 




Club 304: a social hub for the elderly

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Rex Sears has been with Club 304 for a year. PHOTO: Joel Ineson.

Mia Van Der Krogt was struggling to cope as full-time carer for her husband of 53 years. Then  Club 304 offered a helping hand.

Her husband, Gerard, 77, had suffered a debilitating stroke. At 74, she was trying to look after him while also trying to fit in doctor’s appointments for herself to find out whether the severe neck pain she was suffering was a symptom of bone marrow cancer.

Most days she would get up at 6am and not make it to bed until 11pm.

“I was continuously doing something. I don’t mind hard work, I’m still working hard, but it’s frustrating,” she admits.

She says it is hard for people to understand the effort it sometimes takes to complete simple tasks, like making a cup of tea.

“They say, ‘Oh you need people to help you,’ you know, but if nobody offers, you don’t ask.”

A little over a month ago, an exhausted Mia received a phone call from Club 304 after she was referred to them by Princess Margaret Hospital.

Club 304 has been providing a place for elderly people to socialise, make friends and, if needed, to receive care, since 1989.

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Home away from home: Club 304 manager Jo Fraser, left, and long-time member Bessie Mottram. PHOTO: Joel Ineson.

Originally called the Burwood Day Care for the Elderly, the club was tucked away behind the hospital at 304 Burwood Rd until the 2011 earthquakes forced it to look for a new home.

It now operates from premises in Linwood Ave but staff chose to keep the Club 304 name because of its importance to members.

“We’re different to other places,” says one volunteer, as staff gather around the kitchen to discuss the day’s plans before members arrive.

We want them to come back every week, and to want to come.

Manager Jo Fraser says the kitchen is the “hub” of the modest but welcoming three-bedroom home occupied by the group.

The red brick house has been recently renovated. It is warm and could easily be mistaken for a private residence, which is the way the group wants it to be.

“They’ll call it a home away from home, and that’s what we want. We want them to come back every week, and to want to come. It’s always warm here; they’re well fed.

“And watered, if you will,” Fraser adds with a laugh.

A morning spent at the club quickly shows how different it is from traditional or full-time care.

After freshly baked scones for morning tea, activities coordinators throw two rubber balls into the middle of a sitting room.

Following a slight pause, one member puts boot to ball and sends it flying at another.

Sudah Mehta, 74, appears uninterested until the ball lands at her feet. She picks it up and hurls it across the room at assistant coordinator Amanda.

It may just look like fun but these sorts of activities bring benefits, says Amanda.

“They get their mental stimulation here; they get their exercise in here, whether they know they’re doing exercises or not … they’re having fun, but they’re getting exercise at the same time.”

It is light-hearted and interactive activities such as this that make the difference to club members.

More social spaces needed for the elderly

Bessie Mottram has been a member of Club 304 since 2005 and loves it.

“There should be more places like this for the elderly,” she says.

Amanda and the other staff agree.

“I would love it if we could have more people, but you would lose the intimacy of it. I wish there were a lot more establishments like ours. I think for these people, a lot of them would end up in homes if we didn’t keep them going,” Amanda says.

Gerard Van Der Krogt now attends the club once a week and Mia says he “really loves it”.

“The girls are so nice here, and the club members. My brother-in-law had a stroke and he couldn’t speak. He went to a different place but he went away because nobody would talk to him. He would just sit there.”

She says it was difficult at first to part with Gerard, but now she has the time she needs to complete errands.

“It’s really lovely, and he wants to come … there’s always something I have to do, and I can keep my appointments for the Monday now.”




Mapping the damage

Ben Mack  spends an afternoon with Tony Aldridge to report on how one man’s data is helping to shape the rebirth of Christchurch’s hillside suburb of Mt Pleasant.

The sea breeze is strong as Tony Aldridge walks the ever-so-steep streets of Mt Pleasant.

“A nickname for Mt Pleasant is Mt Plywood,” he says as a seagull squawks overhead.

It seems an apt description. Dilapidated houses snake around a large hill. Some seem like they’re under construction. Others look like a bomb went off inside.

Clipboard in hand and wearing charcoal sweater and backpack, Aldridge writes a “D” on a sheet of paper and enters the address for a vacant lot that looks to be nothing more than a hole in the ground.

“’D’ means demolished,” he explains.

One lot down. Only about 1640 others to go.

Mapping mission

Aldridge has been walking the streets of Mt Pleasant every three months for the past three years, collecting information on the state of homes following the February 2011 earthquakes. Known as Mapping the Damage, the project is aided by his 22 years of work as a consultant for an aluminum smelter and background in statistics.

“I like numbers, collecting data, and doing something with the data,” he says.

“So when the earthquake came along, this suburb was badly damaged. And there were all sorts of rumours or hearsay or thoughts about how many were badly damaged. There were estimates like a third of our suburb [had been damaged] and it [was] going to take years [to recover]. No one really knew.”

‘It’s people’s lives’

Across the street, a house appears to be under construction because its front is covered with scaffolding. Aldridge writes “RB” for “rebuild” on his clipboard.

When the house is finished and people move in, Mt Pleasant Memorial Community Centre & Residents Association earthquake recovery coordinator Linda Rutland will visit to personally welcome them to the community.

TonyAldridge

Tony Aldridge: he now lives in Kaikoura, but still returns to map his former neighbourhood.

“It’s amazing [what Aldridge does],” says Rutland.

“It’s really hard for us to see what’s happening without Tony’s work. It’s a really good tool [the data that’s collected].”

The epicentre of the February 2011 earthquake was about a kilometre away from Mt Pleasant. While insurers have claimed the area should be back to its pre-quake state by 2017, Aldridge said it might not fully recover until 2025 or even 2030.

Aldridge himself was greatly affected by the quakes. Forced out of his Mt Pleasant home, he’s moved seven times since, and now lives in Blenheim due to high rents in Christchurch.

Yet Aldridge is back every three months, keeping track of the suburb’s recovery despite the four-hour drive from Marlborough. It used to take him about a week to visit every lot. Now he does it in around three days.

“There’s a lot we don’t know,” he says.

“That’s what keeps me collecting data. It’s people’s lives, all this.”

Community support

Later on, Aldridge meets a bald man in a four-wheel-drive vehicle in front of a house that looks to have been repaired already. That’s exactly what the case is, with the man saying he’s been in the house for a few months.

Aldridge says the positive reception he’s received from residents helps give him energy to continue the project.

“Most people are really supportive.”

He says only three people have told him to go away.

Close friend and former neighbour Glen Metcalf says Aldridge is a “kindred spirit” who is helping tell the story of Mt Pleasant through his work.

“So many people you talk to aren’t settled yet. It’s been nearly five years.”

Mapping the Damage August 2015

Mapped: houses that have been demolished, rebuilt or that are still under construction.

‘Getting good data is hard work’

It may be longer before people are settled again.

According to Aldridge’s most recent survey in August, 322 houses in Mt Pleasant have been demolished. A total of 81 homes are classified as being repaired, with a further 71 at the rebuild stage. Eighty houses have been entirely rebuilt.

Aldridge says the “intense” phase of his work will likely last until 2017. He says he’ll continue to send the data he collects to Linda Rutland, who publishes the results online and in a newsletter known as the Mt Pleasant News.

“I’m not going to stop now. You can’t take shortcuts. Getting good data is hard work.”

Answering questions

The street and surrounding hillside are bathed in golden light as the sun begins to set. Aldridge will be back out on the streets the next day to continue his latest survey. The data he collects, he explains, can help answer important questions not only about Mt Pleasant, but all of New Zealand.

“Questions like ‘how long does it take a suburb to recover after an earthquake?’ [can be answered with my data],” he says.

“I haven’t seen anything out of California giving us some kind of projection [for earthquake recovery]. How long does it take to rebuild a house? How long does it take to repair? All these are good social questions.”

But as temperatures drop, Aldridge says it’s time to call it a day. The reason?

“You can’t get good data when you’re cold.”




Volunteer boosts Brighton connections

Jane Harrison has found her niche boosting community involvement in South Brighton. Jennifer Eder finds out how she does it.

JaneHarrison1

Jane Harrison is in her element at the clothing swap in South Brighton, Christchurch. PHOTOS: Jennifer Eder

W
here South Brighton was once stripped of events and community connections, one woman has found her calling. Jane Harrison has excelled in pulling people together with mutual interests.

Once a month people lay garments and accessories they don’t want any more across tables and chairs, then hover around each other’s collections, seeking out new treasures. And the South Brighton Community Centre is transformed from a white-walled meeting space into a hive of colour and chatter.

Shirley Arps wears the necklace she discovered earlier as she spins yarns with customers.

Arps lived in North Beach before the quakes, and although she now lives in Parklands, she loves coming back for events like this one.

“It’s great. Good to have that community spirit.”

Clothing swap organiser Harrison, too, moved from North Beach in 2011, though it was not because her house was damaged. She craved community spirit.

“A lot of people left. Homes were abandoned and it felt isolated.”

Clotheswap1

Accessories like these tempt other stall owners to swap items.

Harrison moved to South Brighton to be near friends. She quickly became acquainted with the issues facing this end of the beach suburb.

“People were stuck in battles. There was so much negative stuff … whereas I’m more into positive stuff,”  she says.

Harrison had been at a loose end since the 2011 earthquakes closed secondary school Unlimited, where she ran a mentoring programme between students and professionals in their dream careers.

A friend from the South Brighton Residents’ Association, which re-assembled in response to the quakes, asked Harrison to organise a Christmas event for the neighbourhood.

“I thought I was just organising a Christmas picnic! But once I realised the needs of the community, I had to get involved.”

A plethora of groups sprang up in the greater Brighton area following the quakes, all claiming to represent the same beach residents.

“It was an interesting, chaotic sort of phase. Now, groups are more settled, and know their roles,” Harrison says.

Community liaison

The Residents’ Association found its purpose as a translator of council jargon for bewildered residents. She says council and the community board would hold “big meetings, with 300 people … where only the loudest, most upset people get heard.”

She says the council and the community board had to learn how to communicate with residents on a large scale, and the South Brighton Residents’ Association was able to advise them on the best way to do it. This included drop-in sessions with experts.

“It’s an ongoing conversation with the city council and the community board. They come to us for advice because they rely on groups like us, who understand the needs and feelings of the local community.”

Harrison says dealing with negative issues made her feel “burnt out.” She left South Brighton Residents’ Association, and helped to found Te Waka Aroha, an organisation to help South Brighton residents create their own projects.

“We just provide a space to do it in. We want to celebrate the strengths, creativity and vitality of a community, instead of focussing on land zoning and housing issues – which is important, but we feel that both need to be happening.”

Coordinators talk with people to find out what they’d like to do and support them in finding a venue or acquiring instructors or materials.

“It’s about people doing things for themselves and learning their own leadership skills. And that makes it sustainable,” Harrison says.

“We started in May. We got all this energy in winter, so I’m excited to see what we’ll be able to do in the summer! … [The clothing swap] is growing into this thing that’s not what we first thought it’d be. It’s such a social thing. This is the first one with wine!”

There are also plans for a craft market day, a produce day, and a monthly car boot sale at the community centre.

“We’d like to set up health talks once a month … at a local clinic. You’ve got to be networking. We’ve got a public health nurse involved already.”

Harrison is working on a series of Neighbourhood BBQs planned for October.

“The community garden, the local butcher and the local supermarket will all contribute … We’re hoping to identify vulnerable or isolated people who need extra support, so we can take away information about their needs … to develop more projects. We also get to identify key people – leaders – who put their hand up to help organise the events.”

Inspiration drawn from Lyttelton projects

Harrison learns about new ways to coordinate groups with the University of Canterbury’s ‘Link’ programme. Margaret Jeffries from Project Lyttelton is her mentor.

Jeffries advises that an effective group ‘breathes’, which Harrison says allows members to “move in and out of the group and do things, then come back to the group and talk about what they’ve learned. It breeds new ideas as we share them”.

Harrison hopes to adopt Project Lyttelton’s Learning Exchange programme.

“We’ll be asking people in the community to offer a two-hour workshop. It could be on gardening, cooking, whatever – to offer to others in the community.”

Clotheswap2

Clothes for sale are deliberately cheap: the event is not for profit, but for socialising.

The workshops would be run by volunteers for free.

“We want to do events for young people, maybe even have some kids taking Learning Exchange classes – wouldn’t that be great! … Schools are fabulous community resource,” Harrison says.

Programmes like the Learning Exchange operate without cost, which Harrison says avoids the bureaucracy that hampers traditional community groups.

“It has no committee, no board, no treasurer. Dealing with money requires more accountability and paperwork.”

“I’m very interested in ways of developing new models … the researcher in me is sitting back and watching … Sometimes it feels like you’re not doing much, but it’s actually just a different role to running around in the superwoman role, trying to organise everything. People get burnt out like that.”

Harrison says lots of community leaders she had talked to were buckling under the pressure of holding their neighbourhood together while it was fraying at the seams, post-quake. Her involvement was accidental, and effective.

“We used to have a coffee morning in a church across from the school and the kindy, so you get all types of people, on the side of the road. We organised for the mobile library to come down. We had people saying, ‘you really saved my life, this morning’ – just hearing one of those stories reminds you why you’re doing it. The guy digging up the road came to talk, and suddenly he’s a human being, with local connections.”

Harrison takes time to talk to stall owners as she peruses the clothes.

Joanne Reed has been attending the clothing swaps since the first one. She chats over a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

“It’s good for the community, meeting people. I can’t wait to see how it goes when it warms up a bit.”