The Catholic Diocese

Whatever your religious persuasion, the Catholic Diocese must be congratulated for the way it’s tackled the many heritage buildings in its portfolio, damaged by the earthquakes.

The Diocese hopes that it will save all 13 heritage churches, plus the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

What’s impressive is the process as much as the result. Rather than bulldoze ahead and make decisions in haste, the Diocese and its advisers played a much more strategic hand.

From the outset, they looked to collaborate and be inclusive. Instead of closing doors, they left them wide open. Rather than forging ahead and making decisions in isolation, they consulted widely … Heritage New Zealand, City Council, CERA and the Diocese via the College of Consultors and the Council of Priests. By continually talking with these other organisations, the Catholic Diocese took them along on the journey. Where they saw possible resistance, they worked with these different groups to find a solution.

Among the target audiences consulted was architect Sir Miles Warren. When discussion with him started, the view was that the Cathedral would have to be demolished.

He had a different vision, one that could see parts of the Cathedral deconstructed but the nave, in particular, being saved, engineering solutions allowing,

Had this considered, two-way communication process not ocurred, then it is highly likely that the Cathedral site today would be one of demolition rather than hope.

The same scenario has played out with the other 12 heritage churches. Even as little as two months ago, it was thought that the only remaining option for two of the churches would have to be demolition. Again, in consultation with American architect James McCrery, solutions may have been found to hopefully save parts of both of these churches.

In public relations speak, this has been a textbook community engagement process. Key target audiences were identified early, kept informed, and became part of the journey with an extremely successful longterm outcome. A less rigorous and hastier approach could have meant more heritage buildings could have been lost.