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Collett's Corner is wrapping up.

The site is for sale.

Meet Raf

Raf Manji

Where are you from? 

I was born and brought up in North London. Both my parents were immigrants - my mother was from Dublin, my father was from Jamnagar in the Gunjarat in India - and they met in London, got married and I popped out in 1966. My childhood was mainly in London but my parents lived overseas quite a bit so we did quite a bit of travelling - Switzerland, Dubai, Sri Lanka, Gibraltar.

I went to university in Manchester, went travelling in Asia for a bit where I met a kiwi girl. We went back to London, worked, got married, had kids and worked in London for another 13 years. Then, in 2001, we made the decision to move to ChCh.

Do you long for London?

There are parts I miss. I’m a city boy through-and-through - it’s where I grew up. I’m very at home in cities. Public transport, the light and the dark and the throngs of people. But having kids, your life contracts a bit. ChCh was a fabulous place to bring up little kids - so much space, life was very easy. Everything was very accessible and there was plenty to do and see here. 


In recent years I’ve gone back to London and I could probably live there again. But it’s really about the community spaces - finding the neighbourhoods that you like to hang out in and understanding what it is that you do in your day to day. If you map out your weekly life, it’s actually quite small, so what are the important bits nearby - the facilities and the connections? 


How do you spend your days at the moment?

I’ve moved up to Wellington for a bit and I’m getting to know the place. I’m not doing full time work at the moment so I have a lot more time in my day. Because I’m not out the door to work at 8am and coming home at 6pm, I realise that the local environment is important to me. I work from home, then go out for a walk or go for a swim - taking advantage of the nice weather. It’s a nice local neighbourhood to go down to a cafe for a spot of lunch or just hang out.


You’ve turned your hand to many different things, but what work do you enjoy doing?

I actually enjoy problem-solving, which can take place in many different sectors. People look at what I have done and they say “wow, you’ve worked in so many different areas.” Yeah, but actually the things are quite similar: “we have a problem but we don’t know what it is” or “how do we do something?” So my work is in defining problems, working out solutions to them, getting the strategy right. That excites me.


I’m often called in to do particular pieces of work - even standing for Council. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a politician, it was actually solving issues post-earthquake: “we’ve got a bunch of financial issues, how do we solve them?” So I tend to do more consulting jobs. I like writing, talking, thinking.

One of the things I love to do is walking, that’s when I like to do my serious thinking. Especially when I’ve had a day in front of the computer, I like to get out late in the afternoon and take an hour’s walk. That’s when I do a lot of my creative thinking. Having an environment to quickly get out to from your door, either to the hills or the sea is something that will be pretty cool about living in Lyttelton.


What are you passionate about?

I love reading. And helping to build a better future. If we’re not solving the difficult issues, then I don’t see there’s a lot of point being around (with a little chuckle). There’s a lot of different things I can be involved in. I’ve never been somebody who just wanted to do one particular thing really really well. I’m interested in the human experience, how we can live better and become more fulfilled. How we design our systems - systems of living, working, surviving and eating to make that happen. The ongoing human process - that’s what I think about most days.


On your days off, what are your favourite things to do?

I do like getting out there and communing with nature and culture. Walking up in the hills is fantastic. I’m not a major gym bunny...I like my exercise to be steady. I love getting out into the trees and smelling the roses. With nature, I find it good to connect back to where we all ultimately come from.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently around Diamond Harbour. You can just keep walking. I love the views down to the sea and the Southern Alps from the top of the hills. It’s a pretty sensational place, with all the little bays. Having that nature playground on your doorstep is pretty amazing.

I also love arts and culture - whether viewing art or going to see the theatre. I like the live human experience. Those experiences speak to our humanity. Bits of a performance that we connect with, understand, make us happy or sad. For me, life is definitely about experience, whether we’re experiencing it physically, emotionally or spiritually. So connecting with family and friends is also important for me.

What attracted you to Collett’s Corner?

It was about community-powered development. That was crucial. What we’re seeing more and more is how financialised our world has become - everything’s about where house prices are on any given day. Looking at it as an asset rather than home. I’m a strong believer in connected communities, strong communities, because that’s where we tend to live. With Covid and other changes, those communities are going to become more and more important. We’re starting to see the potential for things to not go very well, for people being stuck in their communities. We’re forced to look around and go “what if this was it?” or “what if New Zealand, or the South Island, or Canterbury was cut off?” Actually, I think Canterbury is the best place in the world to be in terms of our underlying productive capabilities, our communities, and our integration with land and water. That’s pretty cool.

So it’s the community aspect that attracted me. I had been a big fan of crowdfunding - people having more control rather than going through the financial sector which is more agnostic, generally. I see how this can help bring about change in the financial sector. We’re starting to see it in some other areas - look at the emergence of Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG). If we can get the financial sector to look towards supporting community development, then that will be a big positive change.


What does community mean to you?

A place where you can be part of something bigger than yourself. It’s as simple as that.

Community provides an element of safety and support but it’s also somewhere that you can be yourself. It’s kinda like a home, only a bigger home. People can come and go.

We’re trying to do something a little bit different here. What’s great about living in a space like Collett’s Corner is that you’ve got your own space, your own home. But you’ve also got ways to interact with other people. There’s other people around and you know who they are. You can take it as much as you want. Outside that, you are in, and part of, a broader community. What I love about Lyttelton and London St is that it’s quite a defined community area. There’s a limit to how far it can expand. Everyone’s got a personal stake in making that place work and making it a positive place to be. There’s layers of connectivity. The power of community is the supportive network.


What did you have to think long and hard about before choosing Collett’s Corner as a place to live?

For me it was getting used to the space and maximising what I want in a living space. But when you actually map out where you live in your house or apartment day to day, it’s pretty small. The size of houses has gone ballistic. Doubled in size compared to what I grew up in. Yeah, space was a bit tight but we spent a lot of time outside playing cricket and football between the cars, and of course, everyone knew their neighbours. People were in and out of each other’s houses all the time.


Personally I’m in a phase now where I’m stripping out a lot of stuff, decluttering big time and working out what I actually want for a living space that I’m in. I want a nice comfortable space. Do I need a washing machine in my house? No, given that I use it one a week, give or take. Do I want some places where I can sit outside, bump into other people? Yeah, that’s great! If I’m not working full-time, it’s nice to see other people during the day. I can just pop outside and there’s cafes, restaurants, a bookstore, the local library. Fantastic! And if I want to do activities, I can just walk straight up into the hills or go down to the harbour, get on a boat or a kayak.


Those different layers of what you do during your day and your off-time, when you sit down and think about it, that helps define what you are looking for in space. Collett’s Corner ticks every single box I’m interested in. Pretty close to the central city (20 mins in or out) if I want to go there, but I feel like I’m embedded in my own community space. There is going to be so much demand for that way of living.


Is this going to appeal to older people whose kids have left home, like myself? Yes, but it will also appeal to younger people. Will we have any families there? I don’t know, maybe we will. How fun would that be? Ten or twenty aunts, uncles and grandparents on hand to help with the kids. It’s going to be a wonderful space for people to live in.


What’s the one thing you have to have in your living space?

Apart from music, it’s my bookshelves and my books. I’ve been carrying them around for a while. I keep three or four bookcases filled with books. It’s hard to let go of them, even with the weightless joy of the Kindle. In the apartment building I’m in at the moment, people will leave books downstairs by the entrance for other people to use. There’s a sense of people sharing stuff. In Collett’s Corner, we might find a place to build a really cool sharing bookcase, also where people can store surplus books (chuckles)! I don’t really need to have all my books in my apartment. I could be the community librarian!


There’s lots of different ways we can have that interaction, and community, and support, and sharing economy - which we’ve talked about for a number of years. What I like about Collett’s Corner is that it’s just that next step but without it being too out-there. It’s not like we’re living in each other’s houses and sharing fridges!

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