New business ventures are trying to jump-start the economy of New Brighton, the Christchurch beachside suburb that locals say is on the cusp of greatness – if it can just maintain some momentum post-Covid.
Green Bear Coffee runs on a simple concept: good coffee, community and sustainability. But what isn’t simple is opening a week before lockdown in a Christchurch suburb not traditionally known for its booming economic potential. It’s one of the newest businesses in New Brighton, with an emissions-free mobile coffee trike for local events and a container cafe set up in south New Brighton.
Guy Arnett and his wife Mandy had a booming opening week just before Covid-19 shut everything down for more than a month. But Arnett says the local support through it all has been so overwhelming that they (very quietly) have their eyes on local expansion in the near future.
Green Bear Coffee is focused on being as green as possible, hence the name. The packaging is compostable, its coffee cart is emission-free and its coffee beans are organic. Arnett says he and Mandy fell in love with New Brighton when they moved there 16 years ago from the United Kingdom with their two daughters. Now, facing a potentially disastrous first year as a business, Arnett says New Brighton locals have rallied around them.
“We are back up and running and being well supported by locals who also bought vouchers through SOS Cafe, texted their orders in daily, called in for a chat, or met friends at the picnic tables,” he says.
Arnett believes New Brighton is “on the up”, and he isn’t alone. After years of frustration, stagnation and feeling forgotten, many locals believe it is finally their suburb’s time to shine.
There is no argument that the beachside suburb is stunning. The coastline is home to a rugged and often wild surf beach, stretching out in the distance as far as the eye can see. At its centre is a majestic concrete pier that juts out over the beach and ocean for 300 metres. It’s a fishing hot spot, and brave local surfers throw themselves off the end when there’s a good swell, flying the six metres through the air to hit the water.
Council-funded saltwater hot pools with ocean views opened to the public just after lockdown and have been solidly booked out every day since. A hugely popular playground that opened a few summers ago features a splash park, musical instruments and a 600kg whale sculpture in its paddling pool.
The library at the end of the pier is award-winning and the cafe there is often bustling. Marine Parade, the main drag, has been recently upgraded; even the clocktower dating back to the 1930s is about to get a renovation, finally getting its hands back after they were damaged in the earthquakes.
People come to New Brighton to surf, ride bikes and run their dogs on the beach. It’s a recreational goldmine, and there are new hints of significant investment from the council and from private businesses opening up this year. But despite all the suburb’s offerings, walk away from the beach and across the road and things still look a bit grim. There are plenty of empty shops and cleared out lots, brightened up only by local taggers and street artists’ offerings.
Decades of decay and a lack of investment have left the mall looking depressed. A TAB lounge here, a fried takeaway joint there and a few franchise shops are dotted in among the empty storefronts and fenced off plots of land. A lot still needs to be done to make this mall inviting.
This side of Christchurch, near the red zone, has never really recovered fully since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, and there are a million things that need attention, but project by project and little by little New Brighton seems to be pulling itself out of the doldrums.
This year’s pandemic, lockdown and inevitable recession are all spanners in the works but there are plenty of local businesses ploughing through. This year has seen the opening of several new ventures including a new boxing gym and a new co-op cafe offering locals community classes in things like carving and weaving.
More established businesses say the locals are what makes New Brighton special, and it’s that loyalty that is pushing them through the tough times. The Burger Joint co-owner Caroline Riley says New Brighton is a classic case of not judging a book by its cover.
“I grew up in a little village in the UK and the community here is the closest I’ve come to the village community I grew up in, in the 24-plus years I’ve lived [in New Zealand]. I love the beach and the laid-back lifestyle that comes with it.”
She founded the burger restaurant after the earthquakes, with the aim of providing a place for the community to meet and grab a bite to eat. “We’re so well supported by our community, we feel really humbled by their commitment to us.”
Covid-19 has meant this business, just like many others, has had to grit its teeth and hunker down. They’re running a tight ship at the moment as they wait and see what the long-term effects might be on the economy.
While there are a lot of great things happening in New Brighton, Riley thinks a lot could still be done to spruce up the area. And while some locals say there is still a feeling of being let down by the council and the (soon to be wound down) Development Christchurch (DCL), there is also optimism for the future. One word keeps coming up again and again: potential.
New Brighton Residents’ Association spokesman Brian Donovan says New Brighton could so easily be the city’s tourism hotspot if it had the right type of public and private investment. There are some exciting retail projects in the pipeline for New Brighton, he says, and more will be revealed later in the year.
His organisation is pushing for a cohesive approach where council, local businesses and commercial sectors work together to kickstart retail regeneration. This has worked successfully in other parts of Christchurch – the popular Little High marketplace on St Asaph St is an example – and Donovan says New Brighton needs similar collaboration to succeed.
In a recent submission to the city council, Donovan said the gateway to New Brighton was spoiled by the poor state of the connecting roads and bridges and asked for work around those to be brought forward.
He said maintenance in central New Brighton had been poorly served for a number of years particularly around general tidiness. “If New Brighton is clean, it leaves a huge impression on visitors,” he says.
In Donovan’s dream scenario, in five to ten years’ time New Brighton will be an almost unrecognisable tourism mecca. It’ll be worth the wait.