An open letter to Wellington, New Zealand.

I was born and raised in Hamilton New Zealand, Hamilton is surrounded by dairy farms and definitely had a very rural mindset. I didn’t enjoy living there, it was uninspiring, aggressive and had at one point one of the highest suicide rates in the world. When I was 19 I moved to Wellington, the country’s capital. It was much more metropolitan, open minded, lively and creative. For me as an aspiring musician and artist it was ideal. I began to play music more, began to exhibit my photographs, and made some great and lifelong friends. In total I spent around 6 years living there and have always said if I moved back to New Zealand, Wellington would be the place I would live… I’m not so sure now.

 

I moved to London in 2006 and have never looked back, after many years of planning I eventually went back to NZ for a visit, it took nearly 10 years due to many reasons, and life gets in the way sometimes, a divorce, work, finances…

 

My family live in Hamilton so naturally that was my first port of call, I was surprised. I felt like the aggressive underbelly of Hamilton wasn’t quite there anymore, the central town was dead, hardly a person around due to a huge shopping centre that had opened on the outskirts. Hamilton was still hardly inspiring but it wasn’t as terrible as my teenaged memories suggested.

After that a visit to Wellington, my favourite place in New Zealand, had some experiences there that have formed who I am today, ups and downs but enriching all the same.

 

On the surface Wellington still had its youthful energy, it’s colourful, diverse, a student town with two large universities, but it felt different. I always called Wellington home rather than Hamilton but I definitely felt like a visitor, a tourist. Maybe that was just due to time but something felt different. There was many of the same bars and restaurants, and many new ones, groups of cooler than cool young people who really have no concept of real life, but that’s what you do when you’re young, it had become very expensive in a very noticeable way but what stood out more than anything was something more insidious. There was an incredibly large amount of mentally unstable people around the streets. It’s a small city by most countries standards with a population of around 400,000, although about half of them are in the surrounding towns rather than central Wellington. London currently stands at around 8.5 million, vastly larger.

 

Everyday in London I encounter many homeless people, many beggars and a fair few people with very obvious mental health conditions but in a few days in Wellington it felt like a barrage. There was the man who made a gun gesture directly at my friends head and bumped into my girlfriend, the young man who asked for money and when I politely declined he said he would hunt me down, the skinhead walking down the street saying the word “nigger” repeatedly, who then accosted and verbally abused an Asian family who looked terrified (that’s their holiday fucked) the man with a very severe case of Tourettes who sat shouting at people trying to enjoy the sun. Not to mention vast amounts of beggars. That was just one day.

I see these things in London, but the level of aggression from theses individuals was significantly higher than I see in London. Believe it or not, London actually feels safer than Wellington.

 

I saw an old friend who now lives in China who was also visiting, he said people in China ask him if NZ is a safe place to go, and he honestly can’t say to them it is.

 

It’s been nearly ten years, maybe it just stands out more because I have some faded vision of Wellington being friendlier and more easy going than it ever was. So let’s look at some numbers. According to official statistics there was in total 736,369 total crimes in London in the year ending 2015. 178,007 were crimes of violence against others. There was 42, 444 public order offences and 10,233 “crimes against society” In the same timescale there was 136,075 people with a mental illness in London, it’s hard to break that down further because clearly many of those people will not be of danger to anyone else and certainly most will not cause any kind of public offences, but it gives us an idea of numbers per population, and that the likelihood of crimes being committed by those with mental health difficulties is quite low. Of those 50, 500 offences, many will be low level, drunk and disorderly type things. Does that make London sound scary?

 

I’ve done work in forensic services, psychiatric wards and mental health services in London, there are some very dangerous people in those places, but I’ve never been too fearful, but when reflecting on it, it was those people on the forensic wards that bore the greatest similarities to those I saw on my visit to Wellington.

 

The statistics for Wellington are a little less up to date being what I could find was from 2014, in total there was 37, 257 recorded crimes for the population of 400, 000. Of those 6,485 would be classified as violent crimes, and of those 2,838 are public order offences. Mental health statistics for Wellington have proven harder to find, I wanted it to be a factor in this due to the fact that the individuals I saw in Wellington clearly had psychological issues, far beyond drug related behaviours, disabilities or straight ahead homelessness and poverty, so we’ll just have to look at the crime rates for now.

 

London 8.5 million- total crimes 736,369= 0.086 for each person

Wellington 400,000- total crimes 37.257= 0.093 for each person

 

London- public order 42, 444 = 0.005 for each person

Wellington- public order- 2,838= 0.007 for each person

 

My very cursory research (I would urge someone to do some more in depth comparisons) shows that Wellington does in fact have higher crime rates than London, and higher public order offences.

 

The skinhead I saw making very vocal, unashamed racial verbal abuse to people stands out. I thought, even amongst all the crazy people in London that guy would be arrested for that. Yet, the very next day I saw the same guy wandering around again. How could such a volatile and offensive person be allowed to do that? That Asian family may well have been locals, but I think I can spot holiday makers and New Zealand’s reputation as a friendly and welcoming tourist destination is getting shit on by this being allowed. I used to tell people, I don’t want to live in NZ but it’s a great place to visit, I won’t be saying that now.

 

Did anything really bad happen to me while I was there? No, but there was high threat levels, higher than I experience in London.

 

Why write this? In the hope that someone in Wellington City Council see’s it, and they start to consider what their mental health services are doing, what their police are doing and to reflect on the fact Wellington isn’t nearly as glorious as they think. The advertising slogan was always “absolutely, positively Wellington” well, they absolutely need to deal with the problems they have, I can’t be positive about it now.

 

This is an open letter, and I would love to have some more accurate statistics, please prove me wrong. But it’s amazing what passing a fresh set of eyes on a situation can do. I suspect also my years of experience has given me a better eye for these kinds of behaviours, Wellington, what are you doing about it?

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