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“By working together, we will come out stronger.”: Dawn Baxendale

Christchurch City Council CEO Dawn Baxendale brings a wealth of experience to leading the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island

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In 2019, Dawn Baxendale, her husband, youngest son and their dog said goodbye to the life they knew and boarded a plane that would take them 19,000 kilometres from England.

Originally from Huddersfield in the north of England, Dawn has had a long ambition of moving to and working in New Zealand. So when her husband spotted the advertisement for the role of CEO at Christchurch City Council, the opportunity was too good to pass by.

"The city is unique," Dawn tells The CEO Magazine. "From a professional point of view, I relish the opportunity to be involved in building a new city that is thriving, equitable and caring. The resilience and community spirit that I see every day in Christchurch attracted me to this place."

Dawn had spent more than 30 years working for local government in the UK. She also worked at the European Commission in Brussels and, for a short while, at the World Bank in Romania.

Her technical background in economic development and regeneration, always focused on driving ambition and realising potential, has been vital to Christchurch’s position and growth.

"During these challenging times, it is crucial for the local authority, elected members and our staff to be fully engaged with the city," Dawn says.

"Our significant partnerships in the city and more broadly across Canterbury and New Zealand will ensure that we not only recover, but also reposition Christchurch as a leading 21st-century city in the world."

Alongside the hurdle of leading during a pandemic, Dawn also has to take note of Christchurch’s painful past. The devastation of the 2011 earthquake and the 2019 terrorist attack are paying dividends in the approach to COVID-19, Dawn says.

"It can be summed up by saying, ‘doing things better by doing things together’. Our call to action is that we need to reimagine our future together," she explains.

"We are working closely within the council and with our partners to use an approach that is based on response, recovery and repositioning in terms of economic, social, environmental and cultural wellbeing.

"The local authority is an important partner in those conversations, but we recognise we can’t do this alone," Dawn notes.

"It would be wrong to assume we can. We have amazing talent in our communities, Iwi, non-government organisations, businesses and our universities. By working together, we will come out stronger."

Dawn adds, though, that the overriding impression she has is one of calmness, which is underpinned by a strong sense of unity.

She says there is a desire to be brave. In coming months, Christchurch City Council has several projects and programs due to be rolled out – some have been identified for the government’s infrastructure stimulus package.

Dawn shares that over the past six months, several medium-to-large contracts have been let to the market, including two for the Christchurch Northern Corridor Downstream projects and a significant settlement for the central city upgrades.

The resilience and community spirit that I see every day in Christchurch attracted me to this place.

"Staff from both organisations work well together to ensure that they understand business drivers for both organisations," she says. "This ensures that we deliver high-quality projects and understand the needs of our community, while undertaking high impact works and deliver value-for-money solutions."

One of the partnerships is with Isaac Construction. "They are currently working with us on the Downstream projects and were successful at delivering the Kilmore Street upgrade," Dawn relays.

"Isaac Construction is a Tier-1 panel member for the delivery of the Major Cycle Routes projects. "Clearly, this year the focus is on ensuring that that authority is financially viable following the COVID-19 shock, and playing our fullest part in driving the recovery and repositioning Christchurch for its new future," she adds.

The joy of working in partnership to achieve collective aims is what drives Dawn. "I strongly believe we can do far more by working with people," she confirms.

"I am passionate about people, community and places. I believe that, as public authorities, it is our duty to ensure we create a legacy that future generations can look back on with pride and respect."

Dawn understands the difficulties ahead and is ready to lead and manage in her new home. "In these challenging times, CEOs always have to look for the opportunities that undoubtedly arise. It’s essential that we keep enough headspace to reimagine the future and put our organisations back on track."

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