News | 23 June 2023
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The team behind the Council's welfare response

When the phone rang at 1am about the fire at Loafers Lodge, the Connected Communities team at Wellington City Council kicked into gear to start helping those who had been affected with a welfare response.

A group of four people standing in a row wearing orange high vis jackets.

For the Loafers Lodge fire, the initial task at hand was to find a safe and secure place for displaced people to go in the middle of the night.  

This meant setting up an emergency centre in Newtown and working alongside Parks, Sport, and Recreation staff to open the Newtown Park and Function Centre, where there were clean and comfortable facilities for people to use. 

The team had over 20 staff involved in the first two days and then a smaller team continued to provide support.   

Man standing and talking on the phone.
One of the Welfare Managers, Mark Farrar.

One of the Welfare Managers Mark Farrar says that the team plays a key part in the early days of an emergency.  

“Our main job is helping in those first few days. In an emergency, people are often having to leave their homes in their pyjamas in the middle of the night and don’t have anywhere to go. We think of their immediate needs and judge it based on the situation. 

“Sometimes it’s a welfare check, other times we work with people over a few days to connect them with external agencies, which we hold partnerships with in our day-to-day roles.” 

This humble team is made up of staff members from the Connected Communities business unit at Council, who all work in roles that focus on a range of things from harm reduction, homelessness, community funding, community safety, security and more. 

Two women looking at a folder, one wearing an orange high vis vest and the other wearing a blue jumper with a rainbow lanyard.

In the last couple of decades, they have covered earthquakes, slips and the COVID-19 response, says Mark, who has been in the team for 17 years. 

“We often deploy staff to assist on the response for some of the recent events in Auckland and Hawkes Bay and were very involved in responses here to the Canterbury and Kaikōura earthquakes.  

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to work differently and adapt our response, but we still had a team focusing on getting food to communities and working to support people where we could. More recently we have had to plan for changes in weather systems and climate change, supporting whānau with temporary accommodation for those had to leave their homes because of the 30 plus major slips in the city during August 2022.“ 

Hard hats in the back of a truck.

Outside of the immediate response mahi, Mark believes the biggest part of the role is the advocacy work that happens before an incident – it’s about preparing communities to be ready for an emergency to strike.  

“We want people to come up with their own plans and think of things like the water supply they have at home and a plan on where to go if they must leave in the middle of the night. We want to minimise people needing to ask Council for help unless they really need it," says Mark.

“We have a lot of conversations with our communities, and we do a lot of the training with staff at our Wellington Region Emergency Management Office. We’re constantly adapting and learning, and work with teams across Council to see how we can adapt for the future. It all comes down to good communication.

"Whether it’s working with our roading teams or our media teams, we all just play a part in trying to do what’s best for those who are impacted.”