Entrepreneurs bringing Christchurch to life

Leading the way to a better city

KIM NEWTH
Last updated 11:21 31/01/2013

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Meet some young creative entrepreneurs committed to a bright city future.

Christchurch is not short of people with great ideas on how to shape its future - the challenge lies in turning those good ideas into results.

Enter Jo Blair, a self-styled "ideas converter", with plans of her own to match inspiring projects with willing corporates via her new company, Brown Bread. "Brown Bread is a code I've long used for anything that's good and wholesome. That's where the name comes from."

With her extensive sales and marketing background and a Masters in Business Administration, the 37-year-old is well-placed to act as a kind of creativity broker. Her most recent role was as director of the country's first New Zealand IceFest and before that, she was executive director of the World Buskers Festival for three years. She helped shape the Christchurch City Council's events strategy in her time as events development manager. Her career spans film and fashion marketing in Melbourne, and working in the hospitality sector, having started her career at Montana Wine and later completed a four-month certificate at the NZ School of Food and Wine. She is married to Alistair Blair, the grape grower at Waipara vineyard Black Estate, and her twin sister, Penelope Naish, is business manager there.

Canterbury is bubbling with potential right now, but Jo says there is a risk of good ideas being lost. "So many people want to make a difference now. The great thing is that this energy is coming from our community, but people don't necessarily know how to communicate with the right organisations to make things happen. I also see organisations in and outside of Christchurch wanting to help, but not knowing how to do so."

Jo is particularly interested in promoting culture. "We need to be generating a creative city and I think that need is quite urgent if we want to have any chance of attracting and retaining young talent in Christchurch to help with the rebuild."

With her experience in sponsorship and building partnerships, Jo knows how difficult it is to win support for initiatives. "Let's capitalise on the new thinking that is emerging, by creating partnerships, nationally and internationally, to help make some of these really bold ideas happen."

One of the first organisations Brown Bread hopes to work with is the Christchurch Art Gallery. It is investigating partnerships to promote Outer Spaces, the innovative programme the gallery has been running while closed for post-earthquake repairs.

 "If we can help those with creative ideas generate commercial strategies, plus connect those with commercial resources to some of the new city's defining projects, we might just see a different city, culturally, within five years," Jo says.

Café creative

When C1 Espresso reopened in the old High Street Post Office building on the corner of Tuam and High streets in November, it marked the launch of something special in the city's resurgent hospitality sector.

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It wasn't just a rebirth of the much-loved C1 that had operated across the road. Owner Sam Crofskey wanted to create something permanent of which the people of Christchurch could be truly proud; something that lived up to the dreams expressed via the 'Share An Idea' initiative. The 35-year-old's goal has been nothing less than to create the greatest café and coffee shop in the world.

Green design is to the fore with solar panels, a heat-recycling system and a rooftop garden and vineyard (with vines from Black Estate), along with organic beehives. Most of the furnishings are recycled. The old C1's quirky design elements have been amplified to include, for example, a counter made of 14,000 Lego blocks. A pneumatic tube is used to deliver orders from counter to kitchen and a bookcase wall is actually a sliding door between the main café and the bathrooms. Coffee is roasted on the premises and C1 also has its own juice and soda company.

"This has been an opportunity for us to do things right," Sam says.

"So many buildings are gone. I'm constantly saddened by what I see but, at the same time, there is this tremendous opportunity, generally, to rebuild something special. It is a time for us to really shine," Sam, who has a hotel and entrepreneurial background, says. An earlier venture saw him design and market his own coffee tampers.

Sam and his partner, Fleur Bathurst, worked side by side to build C1 when they first took over ownership of the business in 2003. In the immediate aftermath of the February 2011 earthquake, it was by no means clear what the future held. They were expecting their first child (Harrison, now 20 months old), their house was ruined and there were no easy answers.

"But we'd put so much into C1, we couldn't let it go, so we started negotiations on the post office site in November 2011."

At no point did they consider throwing something up in a hurry to fill a gap in the market. "We have tried really hard to create something that ticks all the right boxes; something that will remain for decades to come; something that is special in the heart of the city."

Awesome opportunities

Helping to water the seeds of awesome in Christchurch is New York-born entrepreneur, communicator and social-media maven Kaila Colbin.

As one of the founders of the Ministry of Awesome, the 39-year-old is clear about her role - and it's not to force people into being awesome. "People grow by themselves. It's like flowers: if you provide the right conditions, you will grow big, healthy flowers as opposed to small ones." She sees the Ministry of Awesome as a vehicle to encourage and empower people to put ideas into action.

Not even a year old yet, the initiative has made a big impact under the leadership of Kaila and her fellow founding members: former mayor Vicki Buck, Student Volunteer Army (SVA) founder Sam Johnson, and change-maker Sacha McMeeking (previously general manager of Strategy and Influence at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu).

Monthly Awesome Meetings have brought forth a string of inspiring projects. "It's about bringing people together and creating an environment in our community where people feel they can make things happen," says Kaila, who cites a recent book as a good example of this new way of thinking in Christchurch. "Christchurch, The Transitional City (Part 4) from Freerange Press is a compilation of 149 transitional projects in post-quake Christchurch that range from street art to Gap Filler to Re:Start, the cardboard cathedral and the 100-day blueprint. It's impossible not to be inspired by the city if you read this book."

And the new ideas just keep coming, she says. "Get ready for another huge event at the end of March: Richard Till's Christchurch, Cook Yourself Dinner."

The daughter of a professional actor and a business-minded mother, Kaila grew up in a family that encouraged public speaking and an entrepreneurial bent. She sees her purpose in life to be "an uplifting presence". One of her earliest ventures was ThoughtSource, a company she co-founded to help demystify computers and the internet. She was a founding shareholder of children's virtual world MiniMonos, which she helped expand to more than 750,000 registered members before stepping down to focus on Christchurch. She is the curator of new ideas for the city via TEDxChCh and TEDxEQChCh. She is also the founder and chief executive of Missing Link, a social-media marketing company "for do-gooders".

Kaila, who is married to a New Zealander, sees Christchurch as one of the world's most fascinating places right now. "There was so much devastation from the earthquakes, but so much is being born here, as well ... I feel optimistic, yet, at the same time, any outcome is possible at this stage. Someone asked recently 'who is in charge of the rebuild' and my answer was 'we are'. We could look back in 20 years and say 'we screwed that up' or 'we got it right'. The outcome we get will be the one we collectively create."

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