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The Lyttelton Time Bank played a vital part in the local response to the recent New Zealand quakes

The Lyttelton Time Bank played a vital part in the local response to the recent New Zealand quakes. This report is from the ground.

If anyone had any doubts about the huge role that Time Banking can play in holding a community together, turn to the experience of the people of Lyttelton.

Lyttelton was at the epicentre of the recent devastating earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, and is Christchurch’s port town (3000). Its harbour sits on the inside of an extinct volcano linked to the ocean. It is beautiful.

On 4th September 2010 a 7.1 earthquake caused much damage –  in both the city and port. It felt miraculous as there was no loss of life.

Although we were still experiencing aftershocks, we were starting to move forward. Then the February 22nd shock rocked us. It was a 6.3 quake, but closer to the built-up area and shallower. The results are huge. And this time there was significant loss of life.

For the Time Bank, the first major earthquake was like a trial run. We learnt much from it and took those learnings into the second.

This was the situation when the 4th September earthquake struck. With not so much damage in Lyttelton compared with Christchurch city, all Civil Defence personnel were deployed into the city. But there were needs in Lyttelton all the same. The volunteer fire brigade, ambulance and Health Centre asked the Time Bank to start co-ordinating volunteers, and we did. Teams of people helped take down dangerous chimneys, called up older people in the community to check if all was OK, and provided a drop in centre for people to simply touch base with other humans.

This worked well, and our Time Bank membership levels increased markedly – at a guess 12-15%.

However, a small amount of ill feeling emerged between the Civil Defence team and the Time Bank as the media talked about how great the Time Bank was. We started healing those links, looking closely at how the whole community works together in such a situation. By the time the second, more devastating earthquake hit, people were already thinking about how things might be done differently. The first earthquake was like a wake up call to get our systems improved.

I am writing this just as we are moving out of the emergency phase of the 2nd earthquake. This time aroundwe did everything so much better, with a seamless link between the official emergency services and Time Bank. Time Bank has also acted as a conduit so people can find out what is happening and where. There have been bulletins coming out from the Time Bank sometimes 4 times a day!

Some highlights of a Time Bank that exist in normal times but are significant in times of disaster include:

  • You know what skills you have available in the community
  • You have rapid ways of accessing them
  • People are already practised in using such a connecting system – it kicks in fast
  • There is a strong human element, it builds a sense of community where compassion and love become the norm
  • It allows all people to be involved
  • Above all, it creates hope
In the midst of it all life continues. A group of Time Bankers – not trading, just living the ethos of TBing making hand stitched heart brooches. 100s of these hearts have been made by the initiators and all the people that sit down, stitch, and make hearts for themselves and others. Ministers of the Crown, sports celebraties, Lyttelton people and crumbled Lyttelton buildings all wear our hearts visibly. The Time Banking system is influencing the psyche of the whole community.

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