Finding a new community


Runtime - 6:00

Mike Moss and Alison Locke have returned to Christchurch’s Avon Loop Red Zone, soaking up memories of their former home.

“There were more than 70 houses lost in the Avon Loop after the earthquakes,” Mike tells Frank Film. Now, all that remains of the neighbourhood is grass and trees. “Nearly everyone’s gone.”

It’s a bitter sweet moment for Alison and Mike. Before the quakes they had been members of the Avon Loop Planning Association. This was a connected community, famous for its neighbourhood activism. Residents were pioneers in rubbish recycling and they owned a community cottage. With a united front, they convinced Christchurch City Council to close and reshape roads to make way for a children’s playground. And the ‘Loopies’ celebrated their world with a fondly remembered annual gala.

The couple wander the now grassed suburb heading for their old home.
“Elsie and Jack’s house was just behind this kōwhai here,” says Mike, referring to Alison’s parents, Jack and Elsie Locke. Elsie was a writer, historian, and activist, perhaps best known for co-founding the New Zealand Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. After her passing, Alison and Mike moved into her Avon Loop cottage, built in the 1880’s. They lived there for a decade before deciding to rebuild the house with the help of celebrated architect Peter Beaven. This was to be Beaven’s last house design before his death in 2012.

“We basically built it between the earthquakes”, says Mike. When construction was nearly finished, the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake hit.

The earthquake devastated the close-knit Avon Loop community. Nearly every house in the Loop had to be pulled down. And although there was very little evident damage to Alison and Mike’s house the couple were forced to make a huge decision.

“We could have dug our toes in and stayed forever. People have done that in Red Zone areas.” But Alison adds, for them, “That would have been weird.”

They wanted to find that sense of community again that had shaped them and their whānau.
With no clue where they were headed next, the couple carefully de-constructed their house and packed it into a 40ft shipping container.

Over a decade later, it looks as though the couple have found the community they had dreamed of.

They’re now based in the Braemar Eco Village in sunny Nelson.

They proudly give Frank Film a tour of their new home “We’ve used about 80% of the old house here.” They point out the doors, stairs and windows that have been transplanted from Christchurch. “I like that the elements are familiar, but the vibe of the house is different.”

The Braemar Eco Village residents each own a residential section of the 4.4-hectare plot of land, as well as a shareholding for the commonly owned land. While the residents have their own spaces, they live as a community.

Alison and Mike take Frank Film along to see the Eco Village’s community garden.

More than a dozen people are getting stuck in — tossing branches on a bonfire to make biochar.

“We have a community of about 20 people, ranging in age from 5 to nearly 80,” says Mike. “Community is really important to us.” As well as sharing a garden, the village splits power, internet costs, and have a shared library.

“It’s cheaper living here. We can grow our own meat, we’ve got a dozen sheep up the hill, and we can grow vegetables and fruit.”

“We really love it here,” says Alison, and looking at the easy camaraderie of the gardeners, young and old, it’s easy to see why.

“We’ve ended up in such a happy place. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

Producer/Director: Gerard Smyth
Editor: Tracey Jury
Researcher: Nicole Phillipson
Production Manager: Jo Ffitch
Post-Production Coordinator: Andy Johnson
Sound Design and Mix: Chris Sinclair