New Zealand Law Society - Finding inspiration and challenge in the Christchurch rebuild

Finding inspiration and challenge in the Christchurch rebuild

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By Jock Anderson

Timothy Brian (Tim) Lester
Entry to law
Graduated BA/LLB from Canterbury University 2005. Admitted 2005. Admitted in United Kingdom 2009. 
Senior Associate at Buddle Findlay, Christchurch. 
Speciality area
General corporate, commercial and property law.
Tim Lester
Tim Lester

Attempting to climb Britain’s three highest peaks in 24 hours and walking an 800 km pilgrim route across Spain were challenges Tim Lester and his lawyer wife Sarah were happy to tackle.

It prepared them for their decision to return to a good work/life balance in Christchurch and do their bit – along with thousands of other folk - to help rebuild the earthquake-ravaged city.

Recently appointed a senior associate in Buddle Findlay’s Christchurch office after three years with the firm, 32-year old Tim says he and Sarah decided to make Christchurch their home and professional base.

“We were overseas when the earthquakes happened but still decided we would come home to Christchurch. It was a difficult transition because we came back to a city that was very different to the one we left.

“We have settled now, our son Sam was one in March and we enjoy being here.

“A lot of people asked us why we were returning to New Zealand, but now most of our New Zealand friends are coming back home – mainly for the work/life balance.”

 But before coming home there were big challenges waiting.

Climbing Ben Nevis (4,409 feet, 1,344 metres) in Scotland, Snowdon (3,560 feet, 1,085 metres) in Wales and Scafell Pike (3,209 feet, 978 metres) in England – all in 24 hours - was just one.

“Sarah and I decided to give it a go, but we were outside the time because Scafell is climbed at night and the weather was atrocious.

 “You have a designated driver to get from one peak to another, trying to get a bit of sleep, getting changed into dry gear and trying to eat – all in the back of the car and all a bit mad…”

The couple spent 32 days walking the 800 km Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail – the Way of St James – starting on the French side of the Pyrenees and across Spain to Santiago Cathedral, reputedly the burial place of St James the Great, one of Christ’s disciples.

“It has been walked by people for hundreds of years and people do it for a number of reasons – we are keen on the outdoors and we were open to a new experience.

“You get a special pilgrim’s passport, can’t book accommodation ahead, get the backpack on, walk until you’ve had enough, sleep in cheap dormitories and share simple collective meals, usually provided by local churches for a donation.

“It was an amazing experience and we met many people from all walks of life, from big fat Americans to people with terminal illnesses and people wanting to get their lives back on track…

“When the pilgrims arrive at Santiago Cathedral a massive urn swinging from the roof douses them in incense.”

Tim is a keen ironman competitor and finished third in his age group in the recent Wanaka half ironman – said to be the most scenic in the world - in a time of five hours four minutes.

Keen to play a part in the rebuild of Christchurch, he joined local trust boards Life in Vacant Spaces and Gap Filler, which encourage use of demolished and vacant sites.

Gap Filler grew from Coralie Winn’s inspirational idea to put an old fridge on a vacant site as a community book exchange.

“It’s about doing something interesting with vacant sites to keep them alive and useful.”

Funded by a Christchurch City Council community grant, Life in Vacant Spaces acts as a broker between landowners who have a plot waiting for insurance settlement of building consent and are keen to let people do something with it in the meantime.

“Life in Vacant Spaces and Gap Filler find suitable projects and bring parties together. The old Crowne Plaza site is a good example, bringing food trucks and retro sports such as swing ball and petanque to Victoria Square.

“It’s about bringing people and business back into the city centre.”

Gap Filler is a more commercial operation, encouraging startup or popup shops into sites and buildings not yet under redevelopment but in a safe environment without commercial rents.

“A increasing number of landowners come along with sites they can’t do anything with at the moment, and it appeals to their sense of social wellbeing to do something with them.”

Tim says the biggest competition for such projects is from Wilson Parking “who come along and put up parking meters…”

Tim and Sarah – a senior associate at Chapman Tripp specialising in construction, engineering and insurance - appreciate their new pace of life.

“We have friends who work in big firms in London who often have to cancel weekend plans to close deals.

“There are smaller firms and in-house jobs which are easier, but the big firms – especially the US law firms in London – have high expectations.”

Tim, whose brother James has just started as a graduate at Russell McVeagh in Wellington, started in an Ashburton firm, where he was exposed to a very broad practice and was “straight into it”, including duty solicitor work and an early defended hearing.

“You were likely to do a farm sale for Mum and Dad on Friday and be representing their son in the District Court on drink driving on Monday.

“We like to get out in the Port Hills, with Sam in the backpack. The hills are safe to walk again since the ‘quakes…

“I never appreciated the Port Hills and how easy it is to get up there until we returned from overseas.”

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at

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