12 Mar Pulling together – Ashley’s story
For every Police response that requires support, every victim seeking guidance, or weary support worker who needs to debrief, the Victim Support Contact Service will take that call. The team is small, just 14 staff rostered with no more than six at any one time to cover 24 hours, seven days a week. Their role is to receive calls from the public, Police and support workers; connecting people with the support they need and looking out for the team on the ground.
For Contact Service team member Ashley Field, that central role in the Victim Support process put her and her colleagues at the heart of the response to the Christchurch terror attacks. Ashley arrived for her shift on March 15th as usual. Following the news of the events in Christchurch, and as the afternoon wore on, the calls began to stream in.
“The evening was very busy, and we all worked late. I just remember people calling in to find out if their loved ones were alive.”
The unprecedented nature and scale of the terror attacks meant the situation was rapidly changing as new information arrived.
“There was such a lot, and it was all very new. We were all trying to get our heads around it. There were new processes all the time.”
Ashley recalls the number of calls from people offering to help and says the response from the whole of New Zealand was incredible.
“I remember an elderly man who was crying. He was devastated and called in wanting to help. He was saying, ‘I don’t know what to do’. And, of course, we also had support workers from all over New Zealand calling in.”
Along with coordinating support for victims and liaising with Police, the Contact Service helped with bookings for accommodation and flights for family members of victims, as well as support workers travelling to Christchurch.
The Contact Service receives an average of around 2,500 calls per week. At the time of the attacks, calls increased astronomically as they climbed to almost double at their peak and then averaged out to 3,400 per week.
Sam Isa’ako, Contact Service Manager, says, “what’s even more important than the volume of calls is the type of content we deal with, working with people’s real lives.”
The workload was intense, but Ashley says they always felt supported and describes the team as a tightknit unit which was hugely important to helping her provide the level of support needed.
“The National Office team is amazing. They totally supported us. We had lots of management around, and we knew we could always go to our Team Leader Kate, our Contact Service Manager Sam and our after-hours Advisors. We knew they backed us, and we backed them too.”
“We deal with sad stuff, but I love going to work every day because of the people I work with. We all have the same drive because we are there for the same reasons.”