Impressions on coming back to Chch

04:04, Jul 28 2014
Peter Beck
PETER BECK: He believes that Cera, EQC and others are finally getting the message that it really does make sense to listen to the community.

After six months away, former cathedral dean and ex-city councillor PETER BECK returns to Christchurch and shares his thoughts.

It's good to be home. After six months in Auckland looking after a large parish as a kind of locum, it's good to be back in Christchurch where we belong.

Not that we didn't enjoy Auckland. It felt like respite leave - I knew I was tired like everyone else here, but I hadn't realised just quite how much I was still so emotionally shaken up.

On February 22, I walked down to the beach in Howick on a lovely summer afternoon. Gay, my wife, was in Christchurch and I felt the need to just sit and contemplate in a beautiful bay while the memorial service would be going on in the Botanical Gardens. To my surprise, come 12.51pm I was an absolute wreck. I couldn't stop crying. Whoa, I thought, this must be doing me good.

I was lucky to have the chance to have some time away, more than most people still feeling beleaguered and bereft in our city as they continue to struggle and strive with EQC, insurers and the rest.

And I wasn't entirely cut off. I made sure I kept my fingers in the various pies I have been involved with, like CanCERN and Eastern Vision, and kept in contact with the network of people whose vision and hopes I share for our city and its recovery and rebuild.


The editor of The Press asked me to give my impressions, having had couple of weeks back home. What's changed? What's the mood? What does Christchurch feel like?

Well, of course it depends on who you talk to, from those who are talking up the rebuild in the city centre to those who still don't see a way forward yet for themselves and their homes and households.

Anyway, some impressions on coming home, in no particular order:

I love the artwork on the walls around the city [more please in the suburbs]. Hats off to Jenny Harper and her team, and to all the others from Ministry of Awesome to Gap Fillers and the rest. For over three years, these folk have been determined to brighten up all our lives with things of beauty, fun and resourcefulness. Coming home I realise just how important that has been. Thank you.

Things are happening in the city centre and it is noteworthy that a lot of this is thanks to local entrepreneurs, several with long family loyalties to our city. Despite the seemingly endless bureaucratic hoops put in your way, you are persisting. Thank you.

The fresh look around the city council table is both welcome and does seem to be making progress. There does seem to be a real effort to shift the culture of the whole organisation to be one which is more accessible and more transparent. I wrote in these pages several months ago that one of the great dangers of a bureaucracy such as CCC was that capable and committed people ended up becoming servants of the institution rather than servants of the people they were called to serve. That's the way of bureaucracies and its good to see effort being made to change it.

All the best to the new chief executive, Karleen Edwards.

And to the mayor, a big cheer from me in your efforts to build a team around the council table, and to re-establish trust between the councillors and the council staff. Governance and management working in a robust and trusting partnership is the only way to achieve the outcomes we all want. And while I'm at it, I have to say how impressed I am with the work of Raf Manji. We may not like the medicine that is being delivered, but I reckon most of us believe that it will do us all good.

As for the so-called "cancelling Christmas" debacle. A small sum of money but a powerful symbolic action which really drove home the state of the council's coffers, and the overall necessity for real financial prudence. I thought and hoped the churches might step up seeing as it was all about Christmas, but thanks City Care.

One of the big steps forward is that I'm hearing that some of the insurers, Cera, EQC and others are finally getting the message that it really does make sense to listen to the community to get a steer on what might be the best policies to pursue and how to communicate them. Even after all this time, I keep restating and restating the tag line we have in CanCERN, that "the wisdom of the local community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts". It's so obvious and so real in this proud and parochial city, of all places, but, my oh my, how resistant are the powers that be. But I hear that we are making some progress at last, thanks largely to the efforts of people like Leanne Curtis and Evan Smith. Alleluia!

But, and it is a big but, for many nothing has changed in the time that I have been away. The ongoing frustrations between householders and EQC, EQR, CCC and insurers just go on and on. At a personal level, Gay and I still can't get a date when we will have a chance to discuss the scope and estimate for the repairs to our house. And we are better off than many, many others. If things are improving as I'm being told, the many people who are still feeling stuck would like to see and experience the evidence.

Johnny Moore's refreshing and pertinent weekly article both amuses and inspires me. Johnny is just one example of the younger folk who are not going to be put off by the deleteriousness of their elders, who are deciding to just do it.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the launch of the Mahinga Kai Exemplar project on the edge of the Red Zone. What a fantastic collaborative effort between grassroots community groups led by the AVON Otakaro River Network, with Te Runanga O Ngai Tahu, CCC, ECan, DOC, Landcare Research, Scion, Soil and Health Canterbury, Working Waters Trust and the fantastic and enthusiastic students of Freeville School. This was a real and actual start of our dream of greening the red zone - returning it to natural habitat as an ecological reserve and multi-purpose river park. Here is what real partnership and collaboration can achieve - the local community working with the powers that be to achieve a visionary outcome. May this be a taste of things to come.

And collaboration and joint planning is what my mate, John Patterson, is advocating for. A champion of the older folk in our city, John continues to strive for a collaborative approach between builders, insurers, EQC, CCC and the rest to plan the repair and rebuild of people's homes, and to speed things up. Good on you John.

And a huge thank you to Amy Burke and her Help for the Homeless campaign featured on Campbell Live. (And if I were the one who dished out gongs I'd certainly give one to John Campbell for the way in which he has kept the challenges and opportunities we are facing here before the nation.) The generous support for Amy's initiative is yet another example of the willingness of Cantabrians to reach out to their neighbours in need. For me this is where we see the act of God, not in the earthquakes that struck us (that was simply the planet doing what the planet does) but in the care, compassion and courage that people have shown and continue to show to one another.

I had a great time in Auckland. It is a city I spent over 20 years of my life in. But it isn't nearly as exciting or stimulating as being back home here in Christchurch, where, despite all the frustrations, I am surrounded by people who, tired out as they may be, are sticking with it and will not be defeated.

The prophet Isaiah said that "if there is no vision the people perish". We developed a vision for our city when we "shared our ideas" over two years ago. I want to hang on to that vision and to continue to strive for it as we keep on keeping on.

The Press