Friday, 22 July 2016

Heading home

On 22 July the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber) arrives home at last. We move back to 57 Kilmore Street where the Chamber was based for close to 30 years before the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

For the first time in 157 years the Chamber will be based in a purpose built and dedicated new building which has been designed specifically to meet its needs with a range of meeting rooms, high quality open plan office space and supporting facilities. From its beginnings in Lyttelton in 1859, through a variety of locations in Lyttelton and Christchurch city the Chamber now has a real home of its own and paradoxically this is because of the tragedy and destruction of the earthquakes.

It is a story worth telling because it is a story that will be common to so many people who are transitioning back into the central city five tumultuous years after approximately 1,100 commercial buildings were destroyed or irreparably damaged. The Chamber building survived the September 2010 earthquake but was rendered un-occupiable in February 2011. Ironically there was a health and safety seminar being conducted at the time. No-one was hurt but the building was damaged beyond repair. The Chamber then relocated to my residence for six months before relocating to the Westpac Business Hub at Addington and then to Colombo Street. After a five year journey we return home.

The journey was not without its difficulties. We had a prolonged negotiation with our insurance company (as did many other businesses) and we had significant disruption with regards to our temporary relocations. But we always remained “a safe pair of hands” for the business community. As a part of that we worked very closely with the Canterbury Development Corporation (who also lost their building) in the delivery of business support services through Recover Canterbury. Recover Canterbury was a very positive and constructive joint venture that assisted thousands of businesses post-earthquake.

We eventually cash settled with our insurance company and about a year ago set about finalising plans for the rebuild at Kilmore Street. We were confronted with rigorous consenting processes. We had issues with poor substrate and some contamination on our site (which for many years hosted a dry-cleaning company) but we moved through the difficulties. Through the good support of project managers, architects, builders and a plethora of tradespeople we have ended up with an elegant statement in the central city.

Our new building is designed to be accessible, it is energy efficient and has been specifically built to operate as a functional base for the Chamber now and into the future. It will be a well-used facility with a core staff of 30 who on a good day can process in excess of 100 sets of export documentation and host several membership training programmes and events concurrently. The Chamber conducts over 200 training and development programmes and events each year and many of those will now be delivered from the home base. The Chamber building will be host to thousands of visitors annually who we know will enjoy our new offering.

Returning to a permanent base will allow us the luxury of thinking more strategically about the role we will play in supporting employers across Canterbury in a volatile and rapidly changing environment. It is now all about making the most of the opportunities that are ahead of us.
After a long and torturous pathway, like so many other businesses coming into the central city, it is
great to be heading home.

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