Is Shirley Christchurch’s forgotten suburb?
By Tina Law | May 04 2018
For years Shirley residents have watched as millions of dollars have been poured into other Christchurch suburbs to build community centres, new swimming pools and libraries.
Shirley’s much-loved and used community centre on Shirley Rd was demolished following the 2010-11 earthquakes and Christchurch City Council has no plans to rebuild it in the next 10 years.
Papanui Innes Community Board member Ali Jones described the area as the city’s forgotten suburb earlier this week as she lobbied the council for extra funding for the area and the wider Papanui Innes ward.
Shirley’s situation is unlikely to change any time soon as the suburb has once again been largely left out of the council’s 10-year budget, the 2018-2028 draft Long Term Plan.
Money has been spent in the area, but only on infrastructure work, like roading, flooding reduction programmes and cycleways. As Jones said: “No big pool complex or hot pools here.”
Sumner, Mt Pleasant, Heathcote, Aranui and St Martins are just a handful of the suburbs to get new council-funded community centres since the earthquakes. New Brighton has a new multi-million dollar seaside playground and hot pools are planned. Planning is underway for a new pool, service centre and library in Hornby and for a pool in Linwood.
Halswell is getting two new skate parks, while the basketball court at Shirley’s MacFarlane Park is cracked and its toilets are still damaged from a fire in November.
Shirley residents acknowledge their area was not as badly damaged as others in the earthquakes, and are not saying other areas do not deserve new facilities. They just want their community centre rebuilt and their footpaths and roads fixed.
Sitting inside the MacFarlane Park Neighbourhood Centre on Acheson Ave, Mary Duff, 71, is knitting, having a cuppa and a natter with friends.
She says she broke her arm last year after tripping on an uneven section of footpath in Acheson Ave near her home. She notified the council but the bump has yet to be repaired, 10 months later.
“We get lumps and bumps on the street and they do nothing about it. I think it’s because it’s Shirley.
“We are human beings. We live in this place too. We may not be rich people but we try and look after our houses.”
Duff has lived in Shirley for 40 years and she runs the Knit and Knatter Group based at the neighbourhood centre. The group knits garments and donates them to hospitals. It receives a $350 grant from the council.
Sitting across the table is Duff’s friend, Sharyn Burnett. She is a community worker for the Shirley Community Trust and says everyone should be on a level footing when it comes to council support.
“We don’t want big, fancy, high-costing things. We want to make sure the basics are covered.”
“We don’t have a lot of money and material things but the people are so generous in their hearts and their spirits.”
Burnett, who has lived in Shirley for 23 years, says the area is suffering from a lack of places to meet.
“We have lost lots. Lots of venues, churches, our community centre. Where else do groups go? The loss of buildings is a big thing.”
Some relief is on its way for the Shirley Community Trust, with the opening of a new used building behind the existing MacFarlane Park Neighbourhood Centre. The building was donated to the council by the Lions Club International after the earthquakes and was previously used as the St Albans Community Centre. The council is now leasing the building to the trust.
The existing centre is bursting at the seams after taking in groups who lost their facilities after the quakes. More than 20 projects operate there each week, including a volunteer-run cafe which offers hospitality training to help people to find work.
While the new building is welcome, residents say there is still a need for a bigger facility to replace the one the community lost at 10 Shirley Rd.
Shirley is about 3.5 kilometres from the central city and was developed in the early 20th century after being mostly used as farm land by early settlers. According to Christchurch City Library archives, Shirley was the maiden name of Susannah Buxton, the wife of property developer John Buxton. On her death bed she asked her son to give land to the Methodists to build a church. The Shirley Methodist Church was built and the suburb eventually became known as Shirley.
The suburb is well served when it comes to retail with The Palms shopping centre nearby and other small pockets of convenience and food stores dotted around, but it has been some years since the row of shops on Acheson Ave have been fully tenanted.
A sign on Hills Rd optimistically alerts motorists and pedestrians to a shopping centre on Acheson Ave, but on closer inspection, the 12 shop fronts remain mostly closed to the public with metal roller doors. The dairy is the only shop that appears open.
Duff can remember when the centre was a hive of activity with a doctor’s surgery, pharmacy, bank, post shop, Four Square supermarket and hairdressers. But once The Palms opened they eventually closed up shop, she says.
Rosene and Donald Cholmondely, who are heading home after taking their dog for a walk, say they have heard a fish n’ chip shop is about to open after the previous one burnt down. They have heard the owner is waiting on consents from the council.
The Cholmondelys have lived in Shirley for 18 years, but Rosene is ready to move on. She is fed up. Her home has been burgled four times in 12 years. The last time was a week ago. She lost some jewellery.
“I’m a bit disillusioned by it.”
They had the Mongrel Mob living down the road at one point and Rosene says that was good because it kept the burglaries down.
Donald says he wants to see a new playground for the children and Rosene wants a community garden established.
“What can the council do? That is the thing.”
Jenna Huffam knows exactly what the council can do. It can fix the toilets at MacFarlane Park.
Huffam runs children’s touch rugby at the park during the summer. More than 600 kids were involved, yet the toilets were out of action, so the children were led across to the neighbourhood centre, which had the closest toilet.
“The park is really well used, but it has no toilets.”
Huffam also wants to see the basketball court repaired. It is also well used, but has a big crack right through the middle.
Shirley is a family-orientated suburb. Some 65 per cent of residents are families with children and about 21 per cent of its population is between 0 to 15. The city average is 17.8 per cent.
The number of children in the area is what 8-year-old Anastasia Monteath-Carr loves about Shirley.
“I have lots of friends here and they live near me.”
Her mum, Therese Monteath-Carr, says the community is a tight-knit one, but it is suffering without the community centre. She also wants to see improved playgrounds and the street flooding fixed.
“It doesn’t flood as badly as some other areas, but there are some pretty formidable puddles verging on lakes. I walk my daughter to school and kids end up at school soaking. It’s not good in the middle of winter.”
There are eight schools either in or very nearby. One of the three schools bearing the suburb’s name will move to Burwood and it is taking its zone with it. Shirley has been entirely left out of the school’s new zone. Roughly half the suburb is inside the existing zone.
There is anger in the community about this and some feel “abandoned” after supporting the broken schools through the post-quake years.
The community is fighting back over the school zone and the council’s unwillingness to replace its community centre.
Shirley resident Joanna Gould has come up with a plan to push for a new joint library, learning centre, service centre, playground and playcentre at the former community centre site. She has written a submission to the council’s LTP and created a website to detail the plans.
She says the existing library building at The Palms could be sold to the mall owners and the library should be incorporated in a new centre.
“Each day as I pass 10 Shirley Rd, it is a constant visual reminder to me and the locals/road users of Shirley Rd, that our community has been left behind, we haven’t rebuilt from the earthquakes.”