The Wainoni-Avonside Community Services Trust is in the one house still standing along the river Avon. Thanks to its community garden, the Trust has become an island of life in a changed community.

“It wasn’t just people’s houses that disappeared, they were people’s homes. People were hurting, you felt people’s grief,” Betty Chapman, Community Coordinator at the trust says.

“But if I see a negative, I want to turn it into a positive. We had all this space available.”

Community gardens not only help build connections within a community but also make healthy fruits and vegetables accessible to people who need them. Red Cross helped to make the Wainoni-Avonside Community Trust garden a reality by providing funding through its Community-led Grants process.

“As part of the Earthquake Recovery in Christchurch we asked communities what they needed to help their recovery, rather than prescribe what they should do,” explains Alison Maccoll, Team Leader Community Partnerships at New Zealand Red Cross.

“Communities themselves have in-depth local knowledge of what is needed and we wanted to take advantage of that.”

It took nearly a year to get permission to use the red zone land and even then it came with restrictions, but from Betty’s perspective there is always an upside.

“Everything has to be above ground, we can’t have anything growing in the soil due to the risk of liquefaction having contaminated the soil. Even the fruit trees are in containers. But there are a lot of older people here, so for them the raised garden beds are easier anyway.”

It also means that all the planters are on pallets so, if necessary, they can easily be moved to another spot.

Volunteers can take whatever they want from the garden’s produce, others are asked for a gold coin donation.

“There was so much negativity around the red zone,” Betty says. “But this has been a really positive thing.”

Red Cross funded more than 50 Community-led Grants through its recovery activities following the Canterbury earthquakes, providing between $1,000 and $100,000 to local groups between January 2015 and December 2016 to help Christchurch communities rebuild and recover.