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Darren Wright: 'I knew the house was gone'

Darren Wright__small

Darren Wright admits he’s “reasonably well known” in Sumner. Some would say he’s being modest.

He’s chair of the Sumner Residents’ Association, chair of the CERA community forum, deputy chair of the Sumner School board of trustees and the community representative on the governance group of the residential advisory service.

On top of all that, Darren’s also an insurance advocate (he’s settled about 35 residential and commercial claims), a volunteer fireman, husband and father of three children under the age of 12.

While he picks up a cheque for his work settling claims, the 42-year-old volunteers for up to 25 hours a week. Why?

“Somebody’s got to do it,” he says. “Unless, as a community, you have a strong voice, you just don’t get anything. That’s the reality.”

Darren’s well qualified to speak on behalf of a community still feeling the effects of the Canterbury earthquakes.

His family lost their 105-year-old Marriner St home in the February quake, only five months after sustaining heavy damage in the September shake.

Named “Rock Villa”, the home was built from Redcliffs Quarry stone.

“It stood up to the September quake exceptionally well,” he says. “We were starting to get in and do that repair work.”

The February quake proved to be too much, however.

“I knew the house was gone. I knew the house wouldn’t stand up to that (February quake), there was no way.”

“February just absolutely smashed it.”

Darren’s wife and 4-year-old son were home at the time, but luckily both were unhurt.

Darren Wright_house_small
The Wright’s family home, known as “Rock Villa”, was destroyed in the February 2011 earthquake. Darren’s wife and son were in the bottom left room when it struck.

At the time of the February quake Darren was at another one of his volunteer jobs, project-managing the build of the new Sumner School hall.

He was doing the final sign off on the building when the quake hit.

“It dropped me on my tush. You couldn’t stand up out here.”

“I ran out of the hall, saw all the kids running out screaming, so I sort of knew at that point that my kids were probably OK,” he says. “I was probably about 10 steps out of the hall when the Richmond Hill cliff collapse occurred.”

“So that was like a bloody freight train coming through the village.”

As the quake struck, his first instinct was to help others.

“I knew I had to go straight to the fire station.”

Darren and one other turned up at the station. They quickly decided to head to the Sumner RSA, which was severely damaged in the quake.

It was here, in the back of the building, where he discovered the body of a man killed in the quake.

Darren said locals were quick to help.

“Within 10 minutes of being there, I had a couple of surgeons, a couple of doctors and probably about ten nurses all coming up to us saying, ‘what can we do?’”

Darren spent the most part of the next two weeks working fulltime for the Sumner volunteer fire service.

“We responded to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of call outs over that time,” he says.


He decided to get involved with the residents’ association about six months later, after realising that Sumner needed one strong voice post quake.

The Sumner Community Group and the residents’ association were the two main advocates post-quake, but Sumner’s voice was watered down between the two.

“I had started to get involved with some CERA things and city council things and looked at it and went ‘we can’t have Sumner with two groups; we need to have one’.”

“Then it became pretty obvious that the only way to do that was to actually get elected on to the residents’ association,” he says. So he joined the association and worked to have the two groups merged. The association’s functions have changed dramatically since then.

It now acts as a conduit, ensuring the free flow of information to and from residents, which has allowed for “a lot more community engagement”.

It has also taken on the role of  “service provider”, by supporting other groups with things such as funding requests.

“At the moment maybe 80 per cent of the funding applications from the Sumner Residents’ Association are not actually for us,” he says. “They’re for other groups that are operating in the village, but through us.”

“The feedback from the council is that they’re quite keen on developing that concept because that way they don’t get 50 applications from 50 different groups.”


Darren says his motivation for all his work is driven by a deep passion for Sumner.

“I love living here. I love the community that it was before the quakes and even more so the community that it is now,” says Darren. “I don’t want that to stop.”

He’s so confident of Sumner’s future that he’s rebuilding “Rock Villa”, incorporating much of the original stone into the new home.

He hopes to be moved in by November, all going well.

“I think there’re a lot of people out here that need help, especially the elderly and vulnerable, and somebody’s got to be there trying to do it,” says Darren. “But yeah, I just love it.”

_As told to Ben Irwin

This story is part of a UC Journalism project to trial a new form of community journalism by recording and sharing people’s everyday stories about the Canterbury earthquakes and recovery. You can read more about the Connecting our Stories project here.