Immediately after the flooding in July 2021 Westport Rotary President, Peter Campbell, reached out to Rotarians around the country for assistance.  Donations quickly flowed in from members around the country and a fund of $80,000 was established to help the people of Westport. 

Since then, waves of Rotarians from the top half of the South Island have descended on Westport lending their hand where they can to get people back on their feet again.

Reviewing the damage – Westport

Greymouth Rotarian, and Past District Governor Gary Hopkinson, said with the $80K fund and the waves of Rotary volunteers the group aim at helping where they can, often where people need urgent support.  “Some people just fall through the cracks for whatever reason,” said Mr Hopkinson.  “They may not have insurance, they might be overwhelmed, or they just need a hand to move forward.

“Right at the beginning we worked with an enthusiastic young man named Mikaere Clarkson who has a social enterprise called NUKU.  A pop-up shop, SHOP ZERO, was established to distribute clothing and bedding with the help of Richmond Rotarian Diana Wilkins.  Over 500 volunteer hours were put in sorting, boxing and cataloguing for distribution with SHOP ZERO.

Pouring a new concrete slab at the home of an 84yr old (Neville White, Ian Bond and Kevin Moseley , Blenheim South RC.)

“We waited for the Westport hub and Navigator team to be set up and now we work closely with them to direct our resources to the people who need it most.  We’ve also had referrals from Homebuilders Family Trust of vulnerable families we may be able to help.” 

Initially Rotary received requests from three households for help with restoration.  A group of Rotarians including District Governor Nick Courtney, and Blenheim South Rotarian Neville White visited two of the properties. It was quickly apparent that the scale of the unfolding situation was well beyond the small group.

Preparing for new gib

“We realised the size of the job ahead was beyond us and nothing like we had pictured,” said Neville White.  Our outlook moved to simply ‘how can we help these people?’

Rotary house repairs – Gary Hopkinson & company

At that point Blenheim South Rotary offered to assist with project management challenges.  After significant planning and workforce engagement the team are now well advanced with five properties selected for support.

“The project psyche has changed from a “home renovation” to a “human recovery” process,” said Neville. “The homeowners involved are in awe of what has been done and almost speechless with the outcomes, their ‘piece of paradise’ has been restored.  For the volunteers involved it is a very humbling experience as we witness the emotion and feeling from the people concerned.”

Gary Hopkinson says the multi-talented Rotary volunteers come from diverse backgrounds.  “We are not spring chickens and the team has a lot of experience in a range of fields.  We have ex bankers, accountants, builders, plumbers, architects, engineers, nurses all on the tools and brushes, so between us there is not much we can’t handle.

“The return on investment from the relatively small amount of cash is amplified when you combine it with the experience and enthusiasm of our team.  The result is a much better value outcome for the community. For example, $20K of donated cash combined with the input of our volunteers could be valued in excess of $100K worth of commercial work.

Charlie Leith and Kevin Parkes from Blenheim South RC pouring a concrete flood wall

“So far we have repaired five houses and pitched in to help paint five of the Stafford St community houses.  Many jobs have come up, anything from new floors, damaged interiors and accessways to new kitchens, replacing Gibraltar board, new skirtings and repainting. So far at the Stafford St temporary accommodation houses around 35 Rotarians have invested around 360 hours into the project.”

So, what motivates this extraordinary group of volunteers?  Gary says it is sense of needing to help people in need.

“Our members are in a position where they can give back to the community. They are generally people who are willing and able and have skill-sets and life-knowledge that can make a difference. We are all like-minded and the camaraderie is fantastic.

This has been an incredibly humbling experience, with multiple events and the difficulties associated with rebuilding.  Our out-of-town Rotarians and friends have been overwhelmed at how welcome they have been made, and with the spirit and determination of the people of Westport residents and businesses in these challenging times.”

Press Play to start SLIDESHOW

Shayne Barry, Recovery Manager Social and Welfare Recovery with the Westport flood Recovery team, says the team is extremely grateful for the work of the Rotary and other volunteers.

“Our community is strong and resilient, and as Coasters we look out for each other in times of adversity.  However, these events can take their toll, and for us to sustain our effort we need support from outside our region.

“We have been overwhelmed by the support of Rotarian’s from all over the South Island.  They are a great bunch of people with a fantastic range of technical skills. 

More importantly it is their sense of purpose, empathy and understanding that drives them to make a difference. 

“We can put a dollar value on the significant work they have completed, but it’s their presence in our community that means so much more to the individuals and households they are supporting.”

Mayor Jamie with Max