'Neglected' Cantabs say people, not buildings priority

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 03/03/2013

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Many  Cantabrians feel they have been forgotten and that buildings are considered more important than people since the region's earthquakes, new research shows.

The research was conducted by the Healthy Christchurch project, initiated by the Canterbury District Health Board ahead of the launch of All Right, a campaign to encourage Cantabrians to think about their mental health and wellbeing.

The research found the earthquakes dealt a "double blow", with anxiety caused by dealing with insurance, repairs and recovery agencies proving more debilitating than the earthquakes. One of the key findings was that many people felt buildings were deemed more important than people.

Marie Eckford, 71, of Upper Riccarton, believed people had been "neglected" and left to live in poor conditions since the quakes. "Buildings certainly need to be discussed, but I think people need to be first."

Riccarton's Philippa Monkman, 47, thought more attention had been put on commercial buildings than residential homes. "Gerry Brownlee has this spin that there's no shortage of housing and I think there is a shortage. Some people are living in terrible conditions."

Heritage advocate Anna Crighton, who also sits on the Canterbury District Health Board, said she wanted to dispel the myth that buildings had been put before people. "It's simply not true. I know from being on both sides that the effort being made for the wellbeing of the people in Canterbury is absolutely huge.

"I think it's excellent that the [CDHB] is being proactive in this area because there are still a lot of people out there not coping."

Ensuring buildings were safe was part of improving the city's wellbeing, she said.

"Obviously people come first, there's no doubt about that, but buildings are also important. People have to live in them, work in them."

Christchurch Civic Trust chairman Neil Roberts said people could not say more importance had been placed on buildings when so much of the city had "disappeared".

But it was fair to say there had been more "complaining" about buildings than there had been about the plight of people, he said.

The majority of heritage supporters did not come from the city's eastern suburbs, where the quakes had caused the most damage. "Most of the north and west is untouched, so many of these people are not in touch with what's going on in the rest of the city. They're more inclined to [worry about buildings] because the social issues are not on their doorstep, but they do feel for the loss of their city."

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The research found 83 per cent of respondents valued others more than they did before the quakes, 64 per cent felt guilty that others had been affected more and 64 per cent believed people outside Canterbury did not understand what Cantabrians were going through.

West Melton's Sylvia and John Bartlett found some of their neighbours did not understand what people only 23 kilometres away in central Christchurch had been through because of the quakes. "People out our way forget as soon as they're all fixed up," Sylvia, 62, said.

"We know people that are still suffering - no toilet, still in houses that are all cracked and leaning," her husband, 65, added.

Anna Strange, 20, of Ilam, believed those outside of Christchurch did not understand how much had been affected. "I don't think you understand until you see it," she said.

Healthy Christchurch manager Sue Turner said the research results had shown there was a strong need for the All Right campaign, which would run over three years.

"It's about helping people realise that they're not alone [and] encouraging them to connect with others."

Phase one involves bus-stop and newspaper advertising "giving people permission to feel the way they're feeling".

Phase two would launch in late March with ideas on how to look after wellbeing, and May's third phase would offer people resources to "really look after their lives".

"Sometimes we feel a bit low and we forget about these small things that can make a difference."

The research had shown many people were struggling, but would benefit from tools and support to improve their wellbeing.

It is believed to be the first mental health campaign has been used following a major disaster and Turner said the results would be "of great benefit" to future recovery efforts.

- Sunday Star Times

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