Out of the Fire

When a Christchurch school lost four classrooms to fire, retired AMI Branch Manager Philip Buckingham knew how he could help.


When one of our offices is relocated or refitted as a flexi workspace, there are all sorts of useful items left behind — stationery, file cabinets, chairs, desks, computer monitor arms. For years now, we have gathered it all up and donated it to schools; initially those hit particularly hard by the Christchurch earthquakes. It’s hard to explain, but it’s just in our DNA at AMI to help people.

Every item we donate to the schools is something they don’t have to spend money on. There are a lot of sausage sizzles they don’t have to do, and that money can be diverted to whatever is next on the priority list. Some of the stuff we donated to New Brighton School even ended up with the Coastguard in Kaikoura after the earthquake there.

After the Russley School fire, there was an urgent need to get the kids some stationery. On my way home, I went to the school and spoke with the principal, Greg Lewis. We couldn’t have asked for a better principal for the school, he is such a great guy.

He was in a state of limbo about whether the kids would even be able to come back to school. They had to close it for a week because it needed an asbestos cleanup. They didn’t know if they would have to relocate some of the kids, or operate out of the school hall or the library, or double up some of the classes.

I explained to him that we might be able to offer some excess furniture, but we wanted him to choose what would be of use. After a fire a lot of people who mean well give a lot of stuff that is totally useless, and we didn’t want to do that. We were also able to give him nine big banana boxes full of staplers, staples, hole punches, pens and some paper.

And because we are one of the sponsors of the Canterbury rugby team, we donated 50 rugby tickets for the next home game. Greg was really happy that they could organise something special for the parents, kids and teachers.


I met Philip at school. My first impression was that there was this gentleman who had a lanyard on, who might be important and wanted to see me. It was not long after the fire, maybe the next day or the day after that.

We lost four classrooms plus our administration block, which is uninhabitable. Philip said he might have some stationery and furniture that would be useful in the immediate aftermath, considering 120 year 7 and 8 pupils and staff had lost everything.

In our senior space, every student has a portable carry box so they can take their learning resources anywhere they need to, and all of those were lost in the fire. Every exercise book, every bit of stationery, every pencil case — all those sorts of things went.

The stationery AMI donated formed part of a package that we were able to provide to the students to support them. It was amazing and meant many of the kids could get themselves re-established without too much drama or expense to themselves or their parents.

Right now, we have five relocatable classrooms coming into our back field and one of those will become an administration area. They will be ready for occupation at the end of November or beginning of December. Until then we have senior students on another site; it’s a logistical labyrinth to get all the layers in place to make things happen.

We were really determined to get the school open again as soon as possible after the fire, to support the grieving process, and to come back and celebrate that we are all together again and life goes on.

We made the rugby tickets available to the rugby-heads among the students directly affected by the fire. It was a lovely goodwill gesture.