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Tracy Pirie: 'You have to be bold'

Tracey Pirie

“It’s the perfect coffee,” Tracy Pirie says, waving at her favourite photo on the wall of Kaiapoi’s Fresh Aromas café.

Makes sense; coffee is her passion and running a community hub was always on her agenda, even before the Canterbury quakes.

“We’d always talked about it. You know…wouldn’t it be great if some day we had a community café that could be used as a community hub with local artwork on the walls.”

Now that vision is a reality.

Fresh Aromas is owned by the Person-to-Person Help Trust, in partnership with the Kaiapoi Baptist Church. Tracy is its strengthening communities co-ordinator.

The trust opened the café as a way to strengthen the community and bring people together.

“Money can fix houses, roads, buildings,” Pirie says. “(But) broken people are harder to fix.”

It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since the first earthquake in Canterbury. Kaiapoi’s infrastructure, including water and sewerage pipes, was badly damaged in that September quake.

“That was the big one for Kaiapoi,” she says.


Fresh Aromas is an appropriate name: the smell of freshly ground coffee lingers heavily on the air.

A rainbow fish swimming on aquamarine sea darts from a wall nearby. It’s an acrylic painting from the local preschool.

“Is that not cool?” Tracy says. She is clearly proud of the community presence in the café.

Tracy has lived in Christchurch for 16 years, but finds it hard to remember life before September 2010.

“I can remember being at home at night. My daughter, who was 10 at the time, was really upset. My son was sound asleep with a big smile on his face.”

Reassured that her family was OK, Tracy went back to bed.

“It wasn’t until the next week I understood the impact of the earthquake on Kaiapoi.”


Within a week of the September earthquake she switched her role as church administrator for a position as the earthquake response co-ordinator for the community.

‘Keeping on’ became her focus, and she found ways to get residents together for tea and coffee to move forward.

Then came the February quake.

“I always say broken upon broken is broken. It’s still broken, it didn’t change anything. It just made the cracks a little bit bigger and the pavement a little bit bumpier.”

A self-declared optimist she says the earthquakes put things in perspective.

As we talk, a local resident approaches us.

“This is the best place for food in town”, he tells me.

Tracy smiles, and says the café has had lots of positive feedback,”but there is still work to be done”.

She wants to build a painted wall mural featuring the Kaiapoi Bridge.

There’s more to her role than managing the café. On Thursdays, she hosts a community dinner at the church. It’s a night for Kaiapoi residents to sit back and relax with other members in the community.

“It’s like having a whole lot of guests at your house for dinner.”

“It’s also a night off dishes.”

She couldn’t imagine doing anything else. “It’s the best job in the world.”

“Sometimes opportunities are put before you and you have to be bold enough to walk through the door and make it happen,” she says. “We haven’t even begun to do what we want to do.”

_As told to Emily Murphy

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.