Gap Filler Projects in Christchurch City - Coralie Winn

Coralie Winn has taken Gap Filler from an earthquake response, to a grassroots movement that gained huge momentum, to changing the way people think about space in a city.

Every Friday, the smell of fresh scones and raspberry jam can be caught wafting out of a tiny caravan at The Commons. Dorothy, of Dorothy’s Pop-up Tea Rooms can be seen moving around inside the little space, her strong English accent noticeable over the chatter of the eagerly queueing public.

Coralie Winn, director and co-founder of Gap Filler, explains Dorothy has operated the caravan since after the earthquakes, leaving a professional career to follow her passion of owning a tea room.

“That’s the great thing about Gap Filler - people that have ideas can realise them,” she says.

“That’s the great thing about Gap Filler - people that have ideas can realise them."

Coralie Winn - Gap Filler

Coralie worked at the Arts Centre on the Artists in Residence programme, before a change in direction following the earthquakes led to the conception of Gap Filler, with her husband and co-founder, Dr Ryan Reynolds.

The initial idea was to create a one-off project, possibly a second if it was met with a good response, that brought positivity, creativity and life to vacant sites and connecting everyday people with their city. The first project, called ‘Gap Filler’, a multi arts space with a café, garden and outdoor cinema, was up shortly after the September 2010 earthquake. Coralie says the project quickly took on a life of its own.

“It was just really successful, with heaps of different kinds of people. That was what was so gorgeous about it. It wasn’t just arty people that turned up”. From the get go, people were asking where gap filler was going next.

“It was just really successful, with heaps of different kinds of people. That was what was so gorgeous about it. It wasn’t just arty people that turned up."

Coralie Winn - Gap Filler

After the February 2011 earthquakes, Gap Filler went to ground, but by April, the team were creating again, this time with an outdoor cinema in Beckenham. As there were no cinemas open, and the central city was cordoned off to the public, there was a need for a place where people could interact with others in their community, and share quake stories. Next came the Dance-O-Mat and book exchange, both which were initially met with trepidation.

After being told the project ‘wouldn’t work, the now permanent and arguably most popular gap filler has proved to ease anxieties about dancing in public. In filmmaker Peter Young’s documentary The Art of Recovery, a flamenco group is seen teaching a group of scooter riding teens some of their moves, ending in a boundary breaking dance party.

“With the book exchange, which is set up in an old fridge, people wanted to know who is going to lock it up each night, who is going to put books away, is it going to be open 24/7? We decided we would rather try it and see how it went by itself”. It’s been running for more than 4 years now.

“If we had set out to do a 4 year project, we might have done it differently, but we only set out to run it as a short term experiment. To put it up, observe and then tweak. It’s the freedom to try things.”

“Initially Gap Filler was about community, hope and trauma recovery. Now, it’s asking the question of who gets to do stuff in a city and how can we enable people to bring more ideas to life?”

Coralie Winn - Gap Filler

The projects involve the community in their construction, design and their activation, empowering citizens to transform their surroundings. There are have now been x projects. As the projects contoured to fill spaces throughout the city, one question continued to pop up again and again. How is space used in a city and who has the right to it?

“Initially Gap Filler was about community, hope and trauma recovery. Now, it’s asking the question of who gets to do stuff in a city and how can we enable people to bring more ideas to life?”

Temporary projects can be very useful for cities wanting to try new things, she explains. Permanent process can be rigid and slow; temporary ideas enable cities to learn how they wants things to work. Coralie says there is an excellent opportunity for the community and councils to learn and understand from each other, providing a chance for both to experiment.

Christchurch is leading the way as example of how temporary projects can work in other cities, and Coralie strongly emphasis that other cities shouldn’t wait for a disaster before benefiting from this.

“Christchurch is seen as a world leader in this respect. People from around the world see what’s happening with gap filler as a cool, grassroots project that can be adapted to any urban environment”.

Although the projects are temporary, the Gap Filler movement is not.

“People ask me ‘what will you do when all the gaps are filled?’ But there are gaps in any city, and there will always be land that won’t be built on.

“We’ll continue to bring life to the city, experiment, and provide opportunities for people to participate in interesting ways. We’ll always ask what are we doing to enable another group of people to participate in their city.”

Coralie’s Top Five things to do in ChCh

  1. The Lyttelton Farmers Market - A must on a Saturday morning. Wonderful fresh, local produce sold by friendly producers. Much is organic and Lyttelton is an interesting, creative place to explore with a stunning port and peninsula backdrop. 
  2. Addington Coffee Co-op - A friendly cafe with gift shop. This place has real heart and is owned by a co-operative that put profits into supporting women in India to get out of the sex trade. 
  3. Go for a walk on the Port Hills - For amazing views of ChCh and the peninsula
  4. Visit the Gap Filler Dance-O-Mat - (of course I would say this!), corner Gloucester and Colombo. Bring a device and $2 and dance away at ChCh's much-loved outdoor dance hall. 
  5. Explore the central city - to discover artworks, temporary projects, construction and the interesting perspectives and views that is ChCh right now. It's raw and often dusty, but it's always interesting.

How to Get There

Gap Fillers are all around the central city. A good starting place is The Commons, of. You can also download the Gap Filler App, or check the map out on their website

Best Time to Visit

  • Any time of the year is perfect to explore the Gap Filler projects around the city.
  • Events taking place in Christchurch early in the year include Spectrum 2015-16, from 12 December 2015 to 15 April 2016, and The Festival of Flowers, planned to run from February through March (dates TBC).

How to Book

There is no need to book – just head out and start exploring. Check out Gap Filler for more information.

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