Backing locals in the Bay

More than a year on from devastating Cyclone Gabrielle, parts of Hawke’s Bay are still grappling with the aftermath. As the extensive cleanup continues, hardy volunteers like MAS Business Risk Adviser John Brans, are making a world of difference for weary residents.

In the days following the cyclone, as shell-shocked communities rallied and news stories showed aerial shots of widespread damage, John Brans remembers the feeling of hopelessness.

While his own home in Waipawa, central Hawke’s Bay, was largely unscathed, the tiny township around him was battered and bruised.

“There was no phone coverage, no power, paddocks were submerged from the river that broke its banks, fences were mangled and there was rubbish everywhere,” John says. “I felt a bit lost for a while to be honest. It wasn’t as bad here as it was in the Esk Valley area, but there was still a lot of damage. I just wanted to help.”

As soon as he was able, John got straight on the phone to check on the wellbeing of his MAS clients and joined a local group to pitch in with the immediate cleanup.

John Brans (left) says helping farmers impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle

John Brans (left) says helping farmers impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle is a rewarding way to give back to his community.

“Seeing kids toys, people’s personal items and household furniture laying around in the mud was quite confronting. So with permission, we got out there with a trailer and started loading it up to take things to the dump. We didn’t want the people who owned those things to have to do it, and it was easier for us because we could be more disconnected from it.”

As life started to go on as normal for people outside of Hawke’s Bay, locals continued to struggle, and John wanted to do more. With the strong support of MAS, he rearranged his working hours to allow Fridays to be free to lend a hand with the Farmy Army.

“I’ve got a farming background and have driven plenty of tractors, so that comes in handy,” he says. “I’m happy doing manual work, and I enjoy getting out amongst the community.”

So far, projects have included mending fences, shifting shingle, splitting wood and helping a rural resident move back into their home.

“It’s really satisfying work, and a great way to get me out of the office,” says John, who served his community as a police officer before retraining in insurance and joining MAS. “For some people, this cleanup will be going on for years and what I’m doing is only scratching the surface, but it’s about making a practical difference for locals and showing them that people care.”