Connected communities key to Christchurch’s recovery

Friday March 15, 2013

Research into how six different communities responded to the Canterbury earthquakes has highlighted the importance of building stronger communities.
Lead researcher Louise Thornley, Senior Research Associate at Quigley and Watts Ltd, says the research aims to inform action, by communities and authorities, to better prepare communities for future disasters. More than 90 community leaders and residents were asked what helped (and hindered) communities in their efforts to respond and recover.
“The research shows that communities with pre-existing networks, community organisations, and local facilities were well placed to adapt after the earthquakes,” Ms Thornley says.
“Having established leaders, social networks, and a sense of community helped people to better adapt. Communities that had access to community assets like marae, or were involved in initiatives such as Project Lyttelton, were well positioned to hit the ground running, re-group, and provide support and opportunities for people to connect after the quakes.” 
Marae were seen as key hubs for emergency support and hosting people in need. Māori participants emphasised that cultural values and practices, as well as iwi (tribal) infrastructure, helped marae to respond quickly and effectively.
Dr Lucy D’Aeth, Canterbury District Health Board Public Health Specialist, says the research provides further proof that the act of giving – to others or to the community – enhances the well being of both the recipients and ‘the giver’.
“The act of contributing is crucial in adapting after disasters and in building resilience.
“Not only were the well connected communities able to provide support quickly, but a ‘virtuous circle’ led to a heightened sense of community, enhanced wellbeing, and a sense of optimism for the future – which gave rise to subsequent community involvement,” Dr D’Aeth says.
“Not surprisingly, communities that were more engaged after the quakes were better placed to take part in recovery planning. Communities did however voice frustration at the difficulties they faced when it came to understanding and influencing the decision making of officials,” Ms Thornley says.
“At the same time, participants emphasised that external agencies, like local and central government, provided vital support – which helped them to increase resilience.”
The research highlights the need for communities and authorities to work together to build strong, empowered communities through community-led action, such as iwi and marae development programmes, community development, and neighbourhood events.
Other recommendations include:
  • strengthening community infrastructure by supporting and resourcing community-based organisations and iwi (tribal) infrastructure, especially in areas where this is lacking
  • promoting volunteering
  • strengthening partnerships between communities and authorities to support resilience-building and engaging communities in decision-making.
The following six communities were studied as part of the research: Lyttelton, Shirley, Inner City East, marae communities (Rēhua, Rāpaki, Wairewa), migrant and refugee communities, and Christchurch Community House (a workplace community).
The research was funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand and Canterbury Medical Research Foundation. The Canterbury District Health Board, Mental Health Foundation, University of Otago, and Quigley and Watts Ltd carried out the research.
The report can be accessed at

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Page last reviewed: 09 July 2013