185 empty chairs

In the centre of Christchurch there is a memorial to those residents that lost their lives in the 2011 earthquake. Despite the positivity that clearly comes from the community it stands as a vivid reminder of the tragic events that took place that day. Across from the memorial is the new ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ that was quickly erected in the months following the quake. Serving as a transitional place of worship whilst the existing cathedral is renovated, and made substantially of cardboard as its name suggests, it serves as a natural focal point for the local community during this long period of recovery.

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To create the memorial, family members of the deceased were each asked to suggest a suitable chair in memory to their relative who passed away. The result is a vivid reminder of the human loss to these communities.

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In addition to the stories of loss there were also tales of people who somehow survived the devastation and who have used the trauma of the event as a catalyst for their own reflections. Showing in the Quake Exhibition, a documentary included interviews with local people and their reflections from that tragic day.

[Speaking after a roof had collapsed just where this person had been sitting]
‘I realised I wasn’t ready to die. I wasn’t afraid, but there was more I wanted to do. If I’d been under the desk I would have been dead.’

But in much the same way that the long-term effects of the city rebuilding process are what struck me upon my arrival in Christchurch, having spent time in the city so did the long-term human effects that it has caused.

After any large-scale trauma there are often large increases in mental health issues associated such events and this has huge implications for both individuals as well as the community at large. It was noticeable as I walked around the city that there was clear recognition of this by the Christchurch community – with posters, artwork and other initiatives reminding residents of the need not to neglect such critical issues despite their hunger to move forward.

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Similarly, also connected to the Christchurch story is the support shown by other New Zealand residents as well as the international community that sought to support the city by raising funds and awareness of the issue in the immediate aftermath of the quakes.

Even our old friends – remember these guys? lent a hand.

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