Niel and Margaret Sowry have garnered support for an extraordinary general meeting. Photo: Summa MacDonald.

Stricken Clubs of Marlborough set to reopen soon

Bosses at Clubs of Marlborough have revealed it will open for business again soon.

The central Blenheim business has not yet reopened following the lifting of lockdown restrictions to level 1.

Committee members have thrown their support behind the club’s beleaguered president, Jason Clouston.

Some financial members have called for an extraordinary general meeting, citing a vote of no confidence in the president, citing concerns over mismanagement.

In a statement released last week, the Committee of Management says the club cannot survive without immediate changes.

Staff stand to lose their jobs in the wake of proposed chnages.

“The Clubs of Marlborough has been through challenging times in the past few months.

“An operational review concluded immediate changes were needed for the club’s survival. These cannot be achieved under the club’s present structure

“In the ever-changing hospitality environment, with declining revenues and returns, we need to make changes that will prepare the club for the financial challenges ahead that all New Zealand businesses will face,” the statement says.

The hospitality business has never achieved the profitability forecast in 2007, when the clubs first moved into the multi-million-dollar complex.

The Clubs of Marlborough brought the Returned and Services Association, the Blenheim Workingmen’s Club and the Marlborough Club under one roof in 2007.

The large complex has a gym, shooting range, gaming hall, TAB facilities and two restaurants – and shares the space with the Marlborough Convention Centre downstairs.

Management say Covid-19 struck just as the restructuring process began.

“When we reached Level 2 the government-imposed restrictions of 100 persons per building made it financially unviable for the Club to reopen.

“Our objective is that following restructuring job security will be provided.

It is acknowledged that the process has been difficult for all those involved,” management says.

Redundancies are set to be announced next week as the proposed restructure is revealed.

“While there are likely to be job losses, they are necessary if the club is to survive.

“At all times, the President and Committee have acted in the best interests of members and staff alike.

“Members will appreciate the constraints imposed upon the President and Committee due to the current employment issues involved.”

The clubs are set to open again next Monday, 22 June, at 10am, with a limited service on offer while the new menu and bar service is developed.

“It is a new beginning that we hope our members and staff will embrace. We have a superb facility that we want better utilised by our members,” say bosses.

Blenheim woman Margaret Sowry, who alongside husband Niel has gathered support for a vote of non-confidence in Jason Clouston, says she has not heard anything official from the committee.

Allan and Janet Udy are changing the way wool is bought and sold. Photo: Matt Brown.

Shear genius

A computer software company is helping keep one of the country’s oldest industries alive.

Blenheim-based software development company Golden Micro Solutions Ltd is helping give New Zealand’s wool market a modern twist.

Wool brokers and buyers are using an online platform created by husband and wife team Allan and Janet Udy.

And the move has helped strengthen the industry in the face of threats like COVID-19.

An online sale held last week was the first time independent wool brokers have used the system, breaking with over 150 years of open cry auction tradition.

Wool Online and Golden Micro Solutions Ltd co-director Janet Udy says the pandemic meant people couldn’t travel to Napier or Christchurch for the traditional auctions.

“The Covid-19 crisis has made everyone realise that there can be situations when it’s simply not feasible or desirable for brokers and buyers to travel.

“Level 3 and 4 lock-downs forced the cancellation of the traditional open-cry auctions in Napier and Christchurch, and this has helped focus the industry’s collective mind on the idea of increasing the volume of wool traded online.

The Wool Online system, a joint venture alongside Canterbury-based wool broker Wool Connextions Ltd, uses technology originally developed for Wool Marketing Nelson Marlborough in Blenheim in 1995.

A new auction mechanism has been added that more closely mimics the way an open cry auction works.

Developers used it as the foundation to build the new online sales software which was used at an auction in Napier last week.

After an initial glitch, the programme quickly proved its worth, says Janet.

“A technical issue in the first few minutes of the sale resulted in it being reset and restarted, but thereafter the auction proceeded well with more than half a dozen of New Zealand’s major wool buyers purchasing lots.”

Ryan Cosgrove, a buyer from John Marshall & Co Ltd, one of New Zealand’s wool exporters, says he was pleased with the way this week’s auction went.

“With the additional support of more brokers, merchants and buyers this certainly has the potential to be a staple method of sale in the exchange of wool in New Zealand.

“We hope that widespread adoption will help reduce costs while maintaining the same price discovery and transparency for growers, with the same efficiency for buyers, as open-cry auctions do.”

Koromiko Honey owners Matt and Catherine Wells. Photo: Matt Brown.

Goodbye cheese, hello bees

A 102-year-old building is being given a new lease of life by a couple determined to honour its historic past.

On a small road in Koromiko sits a white building, its rather nondescript exterior gives little hint of its colourful past.

The buzz of bees drowns out the distant highway and colourful hives dot the front lawn.

Once the home of Koromiko Cheese, now the century-old building houses sticky sweet honey and hordes of bees.

Now in the process of a loving restoration by Koromiko Honey owners, Matt and Catherine Wells extracted honey for the first time at the factory and say they’re on the “brink of greatness”.

“We’re on the brink of greatness – well, on the brink of something,” Catherine says.

The building was a jewellery studio, an engineering firm, a plastic extrusion plant and a seafood processing plant throughout its 100 years.

But when Matt and Catherine moved in – it was nothing but a “concrete bunker”.

“We’re bringing it back to life,” Matt says.

The dairy co-op in the early days. Photo: Supplied.
The dairy co-op in the early days. Photo: Supplied.

“It’s probably a 20-year project.”

The couple bought the property from Picton man Kevin Cooper – he acquired the property in the mid 80’s.

“He liked to invest and help people out,” Matt says.

“He was a gorgeous person that gathered people up and helped them,” Catherine added.

“Everyone in Picton seems to know him.”

Matt says the factory was decommissioned from cheese in 1985.

“It wasn’t up to scratch,” he says.

“It closed down and moved to Tua Marina.”

The couple set up Urban Bees, leasing hives to townies in Blenheim and Nelson. It was the first programme of its kind in New Zealand.

“In the first year we had 40 sites in Blenheim and another 40 in Nelson,” Matt says.

Matt took a beekeeper course when he was a teenager.

But he says it didn’t pay the mortgage.

“I got a trade – bought a house – then beekeeping got more popular.

“Now, bees have boomed,” he says.

Matt says he wants to keep his operation small – and the “iconic” building is part of their plan.

“It’s iconic, this place.”

Koromiko Cheese lives on in Marlborough legend, if not fridges.

Puro managing director Tim Aldridge. Photo: Supplied.

Medical cannabis company to grow job market

Marlborough’s fledgling marijuana industry could inject millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs into the region in its first year.

Bosses at Medical cannabis firm Puro have revealed growing the crop could bring in about $60 million dollars in the next two years.

It could also create more than 300 jobs once established, with the first intake set to start in October.

Puro managing director Tim Aldridge says the business will also create other jobs as it gets underway.

“Puro has the capacity to create in excess of 300 jobs once our long-term facilities are up and running, most of these will be at Kaikoura site.

“On top of this are the indirect jobs and construction employment that our infrastructure and development project will create,” he says.

Puro ran a successful crowd-funding campaign last year, raising $4million to establish the medicinal cannabis operation.

The company intends to grow medicinal cannabis in greenhouses in the Waihopai Valley and high-CBD (cannabidiol) hemp in Kekerengu, on the coast between Blenheim and Kaikōura.

“We estimate that over 95 per cent of our total product will contain no THC, 0.3 per cent or lower,” Tim says.

THC is the psychoactive compound of cannabis that is used to create a high.

“Our focus is towards CDB and other medically beneficial cannabinoids.”

The large, outdoor facility in Kaikoura is where most of our new jobs will be created, Tim says.

“Here we will have cultivation technicians that will work under supervision in roles based around plant sowing, harvesting, pruning and pest management.

“There will be supervisors overseeing these roles and specialists to work alongside them – plant pathologists, compost experts etc.

“These roles will be most suited for horticultural trained postgraduate students, or others with similar qualification and commercial experience,” he says.

The Kaikoura processing area will also have technicians for bucking, trimming, milling, and drying of the hemp flower.

“Following the processing, we will have roles for packaging and distribution to third party manufacturers.

“Our outdoor cultivation will come online in September with some workforce required prior to planting.

There will be multiple roles in the laboratory, research and cultivation divisions including cannabis horticulture, process management, compliance and packaging created at the indoor Waihopai glasshouses.

“We are ready to start planning as soon as our commercial cultivation license is received from the Ministry of Health, which is currently pending.”

“This is a multi-million-dollar economic boost for Marlborough and Kaikoura and our success will encourage other local businesses to entire this exciting and profitable market.”

Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith is backing the business, saying it brings with it the chance for Marlborough to make its mark on the world stage as a cannabis producer.

“I understand the value in utilising our precious farmland for economic purposes, with the goal to better both the local and national community,” he says.

“…there is now an opportunity to bring a new land-based industry to Marlborough with the potential to cement Marlborough’s place on the world stage as a premium producer of medical cannabis products.”

Smiths City in Blenheim may not be included in the sale agreement. File photo.

Anxious wait for Smith City staff as closures loom

Staff at one of Blenheim’s biggest stores face an anxious wait to find out if they still have jobs.

Smiths City bosses yesterday revealed they had negotiated a conditional $60 million sale.

But seven of the 29 stores nationwide will shut after being ditched from the sale agreement, with around 165 of the 465-strong workforce set to lose their jobs.

The fate of the Blenheim store is expected to be made public on Friday, with no official word on whether it was included in the buyout.

The store was open for business as usual over the weekend.

Founder of refrigerated logistics company Big Chill, Coiln Neal, has agreed the conditional sale under the banner of Polar Capital.

Smiths City Chair Alastair Kerr says the shock move will hopefully help the nationwide store stay afloat in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“As we signalled at the end of March and earlier this month, the Covid-19 pandemic has delivered a material and significant shock to the business,” he says.

The final number of stores to be sold is dependent on the lease transfers and new lease terms being agreed for those transferring stores, a spokesman says.

In addition to acquiring the stores Polar Capital has also committed to taking on some of company’s debt and liabilities.

The final amount expected to be received is $8 million.

Alastair says the move will help save some jobs.

“This shock has substantially shortened the time available for the turnaround programme that was the cornerstone of the company’s strategic plan.

“Faced with this shorter timeframe, it became clear that Smiths City needed to bring new capital into the business to drive the turnaround.

“However, it has now become clear that the transaction we have announced offers the greatest opportunity for Smiths City to endure for the long term.

“It also offers the greatest opportunity to protect the jobs of as many of our staff as we can in this uncertain time,” he says.

Polar Capital’s Colin Neal says the firm is a trusted brand and all commitments to customers will be honoured.

“If a customer has paid Smiths City for a product, they will get the product.

“I am looking forward to working with the Smiths City team to build on this proud legacy.

“I am also grateful for the resilience and continuing loyalty they and the broader community of partners, have shown as we worked through this period of uncertainty.”

Wine Marlborough chief executive Marcus Pickens. Photo: Supplied.

Productivity problems plague pruners

Grape growers’ dependence on overseas workers to prune more than 27,000 hectares of grape vines has been jeopardised by the coronavirus pandemic.

The massive job needs about 2800 Pacific Island workers, brought in under the government’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

But wine bosses are optimistic there are enough RSE workers already in the country to complete the vital horticulture work.

A call has also gone out to Kiwis looking for work.

Wine Marlborough chief executive Marcus Pickens says experienced pruners are not allowed in the country under lockdown laws.

Despite a shortage of experienced workers in the country, pruning will still go-ahead, using summer staff already here.

“There will be a productivity difference,” he says.

“There will be an experience gap.”

Marcus says the usual winter work force will, at this stage, remain in their home country as tight border restrictions prevents movement between countries.

However, the summer workforce is still here.

“We’re giving them the opportunity for more work.”

Pruning 27,000 hectares of grape vines usually takes about four months, Marcus says.

“We were forecasting a large deficit [of workers], but now we’re a lot more optimistic.

“RSE workers are still going to be the core of the workforce.

But they won’t be coming in from overseas.

He says the new workers will require a large degree of training required to get them up to speed.

“We’ve had a steady amount of wins along the way,” Marcus says.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment recently extended some RSE workers visas until the end of September.

“The ability for people to stay on and work has been clarified,” Marcus says.

“We weren’t certain people could move between regions.”

“Hawkes Bay may have a group of people picking apples – some of the workers will move to Marlborough.

“We’ve had confirmation that that can still happen.

“We have safe, low-risk travel plans approved by MBIE.”

The Bragato Research Institute recently released information on pruning options during a potential labour shortage which includes a one-season pruning alternative and a fact sheet on “mothballing” vineyards.

Marcus says it will be a business-by-business choice.

“It’s a rather severe measure and I don’t think it will be widely adopted,” he says.

Alternatives to pruning could include realigning vineyards, widening rows or replanting.

“There are a number of things people could do,” Marcus says.

“Individual businesses will have to make those decisions.”

He says another question is what will happen when border restrictions are eased.

“When people can go home, will they?

“Will people be able to come?”

He says RSE workers will remain the “core” of the vineyard workforce, but there is plenty of work for Kiwis, too.

“We’re continually calling out for Kiwis to join in the industry,” he says.

“We need to show there are a lot of careers in the wine industry.”

Designer Makai Cresswell has turned his passion for dinosaurs into a design business. Photo: Supplied.

Young designer’s dino passion goes global

A young boy’s talent for drawing dinosaurs has sparked a T-shirt business that’s gaining fans fast.

Eleven-year-old Makai Cresswell from Blenheim has launched an online clothing company, MC Designs.

And the entrepreneur’s dinosaur designs have proven so popular some are being sent overseas.

With help from mum Kalita and dad Greg, the Bohally Intermediate student started his fledgling company in February.

Makai says he is delighted to get the chance to share his creations.

“I have always loved to draw. I started when I was about 3yrs old.

“I like that there’s lots of different types of dinosaurs and I like their different spikes, scales, teeth, spines and the sounds they make.”

Taking his inspiration from movies like Jurassic World, each intricate design takes around one to two hours.

Years of practice means he knows how to get his ideas done.

“I can draw them quickly because I make the details random. I watch movies like Jurassic World and get scenes from them to inspire me.

“I have always drawn a lot, so I have had lots of practice,” he says.

When his not designing T-shirts and hoodies, the former Witherlea School student watches movies and enjoys board games with brother Cooper, 14, and sister Mali, 9.

But he is always drawn back to the design board and the favourable reaction he has been getting has been exciting, he says.

“It makes me feel happy and proud. People commenting on my Facebook/Instagram pages makes me feel inspired about drawing & and designing more.”

Makai’s designs are being sold across New Zealand with some heading to Australia and South Africa via Marlborough customers.

Mum Kalita says the family have been overwhelmed by the positive response.

“We have been completely blown away at the response & and interest from all over NZ.

“Thank you to everyone who has ordered and supported Makai’s dream of having his own little business doing something he’s passionate about, which is drawing dinosaurs.”

MP Stuart Smith has launched an online petition to help save Sounds Air. Photo: Supplied

Stricken airline’s online support as MP joins funding battle

Marlborough’s stricken regional airline is being backed by the community in a bid to help save it from receivership.

Sounds Air bosses are not eligible to any of the Government’s $600 million rescue package set aside for the aviation sector amid Covid-19 lockdown.

Now MP Stuart Smith has started an online petition calling for immediate financial help.

He says the company has a big role to play in helping the region recover after lockdown as well as playing a vital role in providing essential transport links.

“I was deeply concerned to hear that Sounds Air risks going into receivership because they have not received any financial support from the Government’s aviation sector support package.

“When restrictions are eased, we will need Sounds Air to ensure people living in regional New Zealand can get to where they need to go.

“I’m calling on the Government to immediately provide the financial support that this highly reputable business needs so we can save jobs and maintain our essential transport links,” Stuart says.

Money from the government’s $600m aviation support package has been spent on keeping freight and lifeline links running.

Sounds Air connects Wellington to Picton, Nelson and Blenheim, and flies other routes Air New Zealand pulled out of over the years but is not considered an essential service.

Managing director of Sounds Air Andrew Crawford says he is making every effort to keep his airline afloat but is being met with brick walls.

Eighty employees face losing their jobs if the company has to close.

Stuart says the business cannot be let go without a fight.

“Some businesses are just too important to let fail. Sounds Air will be an important player in the economic recovery of regional New Zealand and our aviation sector.”

The petition has already been signed by almost 2500 people.”

To sign the petition visit https://www.change.org/p/ministry-of-transport-save-sounds-air-make-the-government-provide-financial-support-to-an-essential-nz-airline?recruiter=1078209202&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

There could be more rentals on the market when the country leaves lockdown level four. Photo: Supplied.

Airbnb crash could solve rental shortage

Out of luck renters looking for their next home could see some relief as property owners look to convert their empty Airbnbs.

Blenheim-based property managers are predicting Airbnb owners may make the switch as tourism around the country dries up.

But until lockdown restrictions are lifted, the rental market is on hold.

Harcourts Marlborough senior property manager Lavina Diamanti says the move could help ease pressure and housing shortages.

There are 16 rental properties in Marlborough listed on Trademe, with one in Kaikoura and one in Picton while Airbnb lists more than 100 places to stay in the region.

“We’ve had a real shortage of rentals and a lot of people struggling to find a home,” Lavina says.

“Potentially, we could have a more balanced market.”

She says Marlborough’s demographic and industry means, typically, Marlborough isn’t hit as hard by downturns in the property market.

But she says predicting the effect of Covid-19 on the market is “crystal ball stuff”.

First National Marlborough senior property manager Mariette Knudsen says rental demand has plummeted as people isolate themselves to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“There are quite a few Airbnb in Blenheim and there are cancellations happening everywhere,” she says.

“The nice ones with good reviews will probably hold on,” Mariette says.

“I think there will be Airbnb’s coming onto the market, but not all of them.”

She says the increase in stock most likely won’t affect the price of a rental.

“It’s supply and demand,” she says.

“People still need a place to live.”

She says rent increases across New Zealand are caused by a combination of demand and the new healthy homes requirements.

“Being a landlord myself, it’s affected us considerably.

“If there is an adjustment, I don’t think it will be a major one.”

File photo.

Praise for vintage workers who helped region ‘dodge bullet’

Marlborough’s mayor is paying tribute to the region’s wine workers for their handling of the Covid-19 crisis.

John Leggett is praising the local wine industry for successfully handling the 2020 vintage under extreme circumstances.

And with early indications of a successful vintage, the relieved mayor says the industry has helped Marlborough dodge another potential disaster.

“Wine is a very substantial contributor to the overall prosperity of Marlborough so I’m relieved that this is one COVID bullet that we’ve managed to dodge,” he says.

Wineries across the region had to adopt stringent health and hygiene regimes to move ahead with harvest as lockdown began.

Overseas workers, harvest crews and transport operators have been isolated from their families in many cases.

With wine making up a fifth of Marlborough’s economy, it was vital the vintage went well, mayor Leggett says.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett says a successful vintage has helped the region dodge a bullet. Photo: File.

“Everyone has been under huge pressure to get the grapes in, aware that a Covid-19 outbreak could knock down the workforce at any moment.

“It’s to the industry’s credit that harvest is drawing to a close without incident and, by all accounts, it’s a highly successful vintage,

“Vintage is always an intense time for our wineries with everything dependent on the weather, but this year the wineries have faced extra pressure.

“When the vintage goes well, it’s good news for our whole region.”

The ongoing crisis would make “life difficult” for the industry, says mayor Leggett as many international wine trade events and marketing opportunities are postponed.

“It will be a time for innovative marketing and, given our industry reputation and relationships, I’m confident that the strong Marlborough brand will prove its worth,” he says.

There are currently around 400 overseas workers in Marlborough on temporary visas.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment are doing their best to ensure some certainty for temporary migrants, a spokeswoman says.

“An Epidemic Management Notice relating to immigration matters came into effect from 2 April 2020.

“This means that holders of a work, student, visitor, limited or interim visa with an expiry date of 2 April to 9 July 2020 inclusive who were in New Zealand on 2 April 2020 have had their visas automatically extended until 25 September 2020.

“This includes RSE workers who were in New Zealand on 2 April.”