Ollie Scheif ties his apron and begins instructing his classmates around the kitchen. The Marlborough Community College students are making afternoon tea as part of their hospitality course – the menu today is muffins and hot milo.

Not so long ago, Ollie and his classmates were taking a different kind of class, one that was aimed at helping them deal with the aftermath of the November 16 earthquake. New Zealand Red Cross ‘Recovery Matters’ workshops aim to give community members and workplaces the tools to support each other while recovering from a disaster.

When they were offered to Marlborough Community College, staff were quick to get on board after seeing the stresses some of the students were facing after the earthquake.

“I was okay but my family members were really scared so I had to sort of step up,” says Ollie.

“When I heard [the workshop] was about stress relief and how to cope I was excited because I’ve been helping friends through stuff like that for a while and it’s cool to get a good perspective on it.”

Hospitality tutor at Marlborough Community College, Cathy Cocker, believes the workshops have been beneficial not only in helping the students cope with emergency and recovery situations, but also in their day-to-day lives.

A lot of the students were anxious following the earthquake, worried about the prospect of more. Many also had family members who were severely impacted in Seddon and Kaikoura.

“[The recovery matters workshop has given them] a little bit of assuredness that they can handle stressful situations,” Cathy says. “It’s given them some really good tools to be able to provide support but also to deal with stress themselves.”

That’s certainly true for Ollie.

“I didn’t realise how bad [the earthquake] was for some parts of the community,” he says.

“I’ve learned that natural events like that can completely change the play of life with some people who are doing well for themselves. If an earthquake destroys their house or something, it can put them under and then they struggle. [What I learned from the workshop is that] as a community everyone has to come together and having support through rough times.”

It's also been beneficial for the staff at the college and Cathy quickly recognised the stress the earthquake had on her.

“I was in Wellington when the earthquake happened and it was really, really scary where we were,” she says.

“I don’t like earthquakes and I was caregiving for a relative at the time so I suppose I had to turn myself into a different person for that period of time when all I really wanted to do was curl up in a corner. But I had to step up.”

Recognising the stress it had placed on her made Cathy better able to recognise it in others.

“I’ve learned how to watch the stress in my students and pick out what is really stress that I might have thought was just bad behaviour.”

Red Cross recovery matters workshops have been offered around Marlborough and Canterbury, providing communities with the tools they need to support each other through disasters and other stressful events.

If you’d like to know more about booking a recovery matters workshop in your workplace or community, you can get in touch here.