Christchurch: Flourish – the conference about thriving – by Steve Carter
A conference with a flourish
by Steve Carter
What is it to really flourish?
Obviously, the answer to such a question is multifaceted and complex, so anyone organising a conference on the subject needs to be seen to embrace the diversity inherent in the conversation.
So that is exactly what the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand did for their biennial event on population mental health and wellbeing, ‘Flourish: Well Into The Future’, held in Christchurch last week as part of a commitment to supporting the recovery. From the very outset, the diverse group of more than two hundred people who attended were presented with an approach that can probably only be described as ‘unconferencing’ – a deliberate intention to confound expectations of what a learning and networking event should and could look like.
How many conferences would make a (hugely popular) feature out of a two-player game that you win by relaxing more effectively than your opponent? How many would equally confidently stick something almost diametrically opposed, a noisy Wii Tennis game, on the other side of the room? Have you ever been to a ‘health’ conference where the MC is as adept with a guitar and a harmonica as he is with sheets of copious notes and a lectern?
They didn’t even provide delegates with a bagful of the kind of ‘goodies’ that, at most other conferences, simply end up strewn wastefully about the venue. This
was a Zero Waste event, meaning no printed programmes, no marketing bumph and absolutely, positively no free pens. Pre-conference message? Bring your
Lead organiser Freedom Preston-Clark, Southern Development Manager for the Mental Health Foundation, says, “I was really happy that we managed to just about meet our intentions, especially as far as zero waste goes.” You have to admit that a day-long event for two hundred-plus people that only produces one shopping bag’s worth of rubbish is certainly leading the way in terms of what can be achieved with a little bit of thought and a strong set of values.
The catering was both healthy and fresh, and made with ingredients sourced locally. The break times were spacious and unhurried, allowing time for networking and sharing. Throw into all that the major coup of getting ‘New Zealand’s hardest working band’, The Eastern, out of bed on a rainy Mainland morning to open the conference in their inimitable foot-stomping fashion … and you have a recipe for a day that was engaging from beginning to end.
A day that Freedom describes as running “really ridiculously smoothly.”
Of course, it was not all about frivolity and groovy lassitude. Lighter elements only ever serve well if they underscore the fundamental professional intention of a conference: supporting real growth in understanding of the subject on the table. The whole event had, at its core, a rigour rooted in robust evidence, international vanguard thinking and a celebration of real multi-disciplinary collaboration.
Keynote speakers, all challenged in their delivery by a ‘ban on bad Powerpoint’, ranged across subjects as eclectic as new economics and social inequalities, mindfulness, sustainability and activism, Maori and Pasifika development and, of course, personal positive health and wellbeing … or ‘flourishing’.
This was not a dry day for chin-stroking intellectuals armed with impenetrable Powerpoint slides, or for a reliance on the ‘ghetto’ thinking that so often undermines the desire to promote health in a holistic, non-reductionist manner. This was a day intented to connect people to the scope of the thinking required to really embrace positive futures, a day designed to engage and to inspire.
That kaupapa even extended into the evening, with a smaller social/fringe event, celebrating some of the local heroes that are contributing, right now, to the development of a flourishing recovery for Ōtautahi/Christchurch.
Special guest speaker Steve Gurney was his usual charismatic self, but attendees also heard short ‘pecha kucha’ presentations from Jade Temepara (Hand Over A Hundy), Coralie Winn (Gap Filler), and Bob Frame (one of the designers of Magnetic South, the computer game simulation that contributed so much to the now internationally-awarded Share An Idea community feedback sessions). The Eastern’s Adam McGrath was still awake after his early start and gave us a whistle-stop tour of how important music has been in helping get people through the immediate aftermath of the devastation and constant change; and, perhaps most entertaining and moving of all, artist Henry Sunderland described the personal journey and “anti-anal retentive” thinking that had him kick-start the viral campaign to place flowers in road cones on the anniversary of February 22nd – a simple, deliberate act that united the people of Christchurch with each other and with others around the world.
For Freedom, the evening event was “the icing on the cake” of a day that has already been described by more than one delegate as “the best conference I have ever been to.” If anything, the Christchurch focus reminded all participants that this is a city of forward-thinking and resilient innovators: a challenging, tiring city to live in, to be sure, but a place that has a lot to say from raw experience about how we, as a population, might do more than merely survive adversity.
How we might all flourish.
For more information about the work of the Mental Health Foundation (and for further details of all the great stuff you missed by not ‘being there’ at Flourish), visit the website at “www.mentalhealth.org.nz” or join the Facebook conversation at www.facebook.com/mentalhealthfoundationNZ
* You might also be interested to read a new Mental Health Foundation position paper, “A Flourishing Recovery for Ōtautahi”, a new, forward-thinking publication
that looks at the opportunities ahead for communities in the greater Christchurch region following the earthquakes of 2010/11. With its focus on positive mental
health and wellbeing, it provides a unique lens through which we may view the future path we take in rebuilding the region. Download at: http://
Read the inspiring stories of our Christchurch sponsors:
SHAC – The Sustainable Habitat Challenge – is a network of architects, builders, engineers, designers, building scientists, students and young professionals interested in taking positive action in their communities today.
On the 2-3 May 2012, SHAC presented the 2nd annual workshop on micro-architecture at the Christchurch Polytechnic Student Centre. Sixty attendees discussed temporary architecture, simple buildings, and the reuse of building material.
“People cherish their culture through recycling” – those are the words of Wang Shu, the 2012 winner of the Pritzker architecture prize. The demolition of red stickered housing and CBD buildings does not have to mean the eradication of Christchurch’s history or culture – nearly all materials can be reused in new construction, incorporating local memories and fusing the past with the present.
What is permanent in this land of earthquakes? In San Francisco, the Palace of Fine Arts was built in 1915 as a temporary building for the Panama-Pacific Exposition and still stands today as an icon of the city. From the cardboard cathedral to the convention centre – how long will they serve us?
“Simple buildings are key for affordability” said Canadian architect Brian McKay Lyons, recently interviewed on Nine to Noon with Kim Hill. Lyons, from Nova Scotia, says “simple buildings are what we farmers and fishermen build when we can’t afford to get things wrong”
This symposium brought together elements of the growing Regeneration movement – people working together to take positive action in their communities.
Community Rebuild – for the Whole House Reuse project Juliet Arnott
Community Development – Joshua Durrant, Jess Smale, Sophie Moore
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Social Innovation is a small, hardworking community engagement agency based in Christchurch. They work with leading non-profits, changemakers, progressive companies and government to mobilise everyday New Zealanders. Their expertise in this area comes from grassroots innovation on large-scale community action projects, including the Student Volunteer Army, A Day at the Beach Festival, Love your Coast and a number of other public participation initiatives. They know how to scale initiatives and achieve big results with large numbers of stakeholders.
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Ph: 03 337 0861 or email@example.com
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