6 Jun 2015

A journey down Chch's Worcester St

7:50 am on 6 June 2015

Starting in Christchurch's eastern suburbs and finishing in the oldest part of the city by the Museum and Botanical Gardens, Worcester St connects two very different parts of town.

Road works down eastern Worcester Street.

Road works down eastern Worcester Street. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

I called in on some of the people who lived and worked along this two kilometre stretch of road to find out how they were getting on, four-and-a-half years after the earthquakes.

Decile three Linwood North School sits at the top end of the street.

Linwood North School Principal, Sandra Smith.

Linwood North School Principal, Sandra Smith. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Its principal Sandra Smith is on the front line of dealing with the after effects of the earthquakes, including helping her 210 students, many of who live in earthquake damaged homes.

With 38 percent of families on benefits, getting kids to school on time with warm clothes and something to eat for lunch had often been a challenge, she said.

"Some of them are living in substandard housing, some of them are sharing homes with families having one bedroom to share for their whole family. It's unusual and I think unacceptable."

Having lost a third of its roll following the quakes, Linwood North's numbers had now recovered and were above its pre-quake levels.

What happened to the residential red zone that neighboured the school would determine the future of the neighbourhood and the school, she said.

Further up the street amongst 100-year-old villas that had escaped being subdivided and still included large back yards, was the Linwood Playcentre.

Linwood Playcentre.

Linwood Playcentre. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Andrea Lee Read, whose extended family lives on the West Coast, found a second family in the parent-led pre-school.

She attended the centre three days a week with her two daughters and said numbers had gone up and down since the earthquakes.

The centre was as much for parents as it was for their children and the friendships that were forged there helped parents cope with the isolation many felt raising kids at home, she said.

Linwood Playcentre member, Andrea Lee Read and her daughter.

Linwood Playcentre member, Andrea Lee Read and her daughter. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Living in the area did come with frustrations, including never ending road closures and bumpy quake damaged roads, but it was bearable knowing that at the end of it there would be a brand new city, she said.

Next stop was the Red Verandah Cafe, which had been serving up good coffee and great food for 18-years from the heart of Linwood, an area not previously known for fancy eateries.

Red Verandah Cafe owner, Amanda Heasley showing the old entrance to her cafe pre-quake.

Red Verandah Cafe owner, Amanda Heasley showing the old entrance to her cafe pre-quake. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Amanda Heasley took on the business 10 years ago but was forced to re-evaluate things when the earthquake left the 120-year-old two storey building uninhabitable.

With 15 staff wanting to know whether they still had a job to go to, she said quick decisions had to be made.

Within three weeks they had the cafe up and running again from a neighbouring property, providing toasties and coffee, supplemented with baked goods whipped up at her home.

The site where the cafe had once stood was now a carpark for customers and the new cafe had continued operating out of two neighbouring houses, complete with the original red verandah which was rescued from the old building.

Red Verandah Cafe owner, Amanda Heasley.

Red Verandah Cafe owner, Amanda Heasley. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Fears the red zoning of a large number of people in the area would take away most of her customers were never realised and the cafe continued to attract people from far and wide.

"We have very fancy cars parked in the carpark, and they would have come from Merivale, Fendalton, but then we have farmers that have come up from Temuka and they'll come and have their lunch with us when they're getting their supplies."

The earthquakes continue to shape peoples' lives in Christchurch.

On the day I visited her, she had just found out her insurance claim on her home had finally been settled.

Boarded up shops down eastern Worcester Street.

Boarded up shops down eastern Worcester Street. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Her son, who was forced to commute to the other side of town to attend high school after his own school was left badly damaged, eventually got tired of the journey and left.

If it had not have been for the earthquakes he would probably be at university but he had decided to become a builder instead, she said.

Moving closer to the square, Worcester Street is dominated by the large bedsits that used to be called home by the city's down and outs.

Badly damaged by the earthquakes, they stood with boarded up windows, waiting for their owners, who had already spent the insurance money on something more profitable, to decide what to do with them next.

Some of their former tenants were regulars at my next stop, a soup kitchen run by Amy Burke in Latimer Square every Tuesday.

Amy Burke

Amy Burke Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Hot food was provided by Under the Red Verandah and a team of volunteers helped to serve and clean up.

The service included food parcels and clothing and bedding for the homeless and people on low incomes living in overcrowded situations.

On the day I arrived around 20 people had turned up for lunch, but Burke said they could get as many as 70 some days, ranging in age from 14 to 70.

One man I spoke to who asked that I didn't use his name was sleeping in a carpark on the roof of one of the many abandoned buildings still dotted around the CBD.

It was difficult staying warm because there were no walls to keep the wind out he said.

Just beyond Latimer Square, Worcester St runs into Cathedral Square.

The view down Worcester Street looking away from the Christchurch Cathedral.

The view down Worcester Street looking away from the Christchurch Cathedral. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The square's most recognisable feature, after the cathedral itself, was the Wizard, who has joined the campaign to stop the earthquake damaged building from being demolished.

The square was already struggling to attract people after the banks and the souvenir shops moved in and the picture theatres and the shops moved out.

The cathedral was the only good thing left and now it was under threat as well, thanks to the Anglican Church, which was hell bent on demolishing it and replacing it with a modern building, he said.

Tram passing the Christchurch Cathedral.

Tram passing the Christchurch Cathedral. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Nobody at the Anglican Church was prepared to comment.

Moving out of the desolation of the square and the empty lots where office blocks once stood, Worcester St crosses the Avon River and becomes Worcester Boulevard, the fancy name the street was given 20-years ago when its footpaths were widened and a tram line was put down the middle.

This is old Christchurch and the place the tourists come to see.

The Wizard.

The Wizard. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

It is also the centre of power in the city and is home to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, perched at the top of the glistening white HSBC Tower, and next door, but slightly back from the street, the Christchurch City Council.

Over the road sits another monolithic building, the Art Gallery which immediately following the earthquakes, was the centre of operations for Civil Defence.

Christchurch Art Gallery

Christchurch Art Gallery Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Earthquake strengthening and repairs means the gallery has been closed for four-and-a-half years and confined to putting on small exhibitions at temporary venues around town.

A proposed 40 percent cut to its budget for new works from a cash strapped city council will have a major impact according to the gallery's deputy director, Blair Jackson.

A gallery needed to keep collecting which is why, even without its old building, it had continued to purchase art since the earthquakes, he said.

Works from local artists over the past four years didn't necessarily reflect the earthquakes in their subject matter but all of them referenced it in how they were made and where they were created.

Art Gallery, deputy director Blair Jackson.

Art Gallery, deputy director Blair Jackson. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Some of them will feature in the exhibition being planned as part of the gallery's opening, just before Christmas which will include Michael Parekowhai's Chapman's Homer.

The sculpture of a bull on top of a grand piano, which was lent to the gallery and stood for a time in an empty lot, was seen by many as a symbol of the city's fighting spirit following the earthquakes.

Come the end of the year it will take pride of place in the foyer of the re-opened gallery.

Standing at the top of Worcester St is the old university, now known as the Arts Centre.

Arts Centre chief executive, Andre Lovatt.

Arts Centre chief executive, Andre Lovatt. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Unlike most of the city's heritage which has fallen victim to the wrecker's ball, this collection of 23 category one historic buildings is being repaired at a cost of $290 million.

Two buildings have already been opened and half of the complex will be completed by the end of the year.

In a case of 'back to the future', the university will lease one of the completed buildings for its music and classics department, including its collection of Greek and Roman artifacts.

For a project that was supposed to take 20 years to complete, it was an example of what could be achieved with efficient work practices and a quick insurance settlement, according to the Arts Centre chief executive, Andre Lovatt.

Arts Centre chief executive, Andre Lovatt walking onto Worcester Boulevard.

Arts Centre chief executive, Andre Lovatt walking onto Worcester Boulevard. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"The people I speak to tell me of their personal sense of loss in terms of built heritage and how happy they are to see the work being done here. And that is so different to what has been the topic of conversation with respect to built heritage in Christchurch", Lovatt said.

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