Margaret Smith, Brenda Munro and Michelle Munro are keeping charity in the family. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Charity begins at home

A Blenheim family have joined forces to help new school entrants start their schooling in style.

Michelle Munro, Brenda Munro and Margaret Smith have launched the School Starts First Impressions charity in Marlborough.

The trio are working with welfare organisations to ensure financial hardship does not mean a child misses out on the school essentials.

Colourful kits, tailored to the child when possible, are filled with everything needed for a bright start to school.

Chairperson Michelle says she came up with the idea after seeing a social media post about the charity started by Jane and Graeme Thomas in Auckland.

“I shared it with my family and friends and said how awesome it was. Next thing I know my mum and aunty had followed through.

“We want to make a difference and give 5-year-olds the opportunity to start school on an equal footing with their peers.”

The new initiative also celebrates the child’s 5th birthday, with a personalised gift and a handmade cake.

But because privacy is so important, volunteers will only ever be told the child’s first name and what they are interested in.

All requests for the 5 Kitboxes will come from a third party such as Oranga Tamariki, Te Piki Oranga and Maataa Waka.

Brenda, an accountant, who also served on the Board for Women’s Refuge in Marlborough, says helping in the community appealed to them all.

“We feel so, so lucky. We have lived lucky lives and want to give back.”

The family are now looking at gathering cash donations from individuals and businesses across the region. A gift of a whole box can be acknowledged on the 5 Kitbox as having been paid for by them.

With each box costing about $450, the charity hopes to provide up to 70 a year – 10 percent of 750 new enrollments.

“But we expect that number could be higher because of the COVID-19 situation we’re all going through,” Michelle says.

Retired teacher Margaret says she has seen children who come to school without all the items they need.

“This will give children the chance to focus on their learning and give them the chance to be the best they can be.”

To make a donation visit givealittle.co.nz/org/school-start-first-impressions-marlborough

Crossroads John’s Kitchen volunteers Chris Grant and Raewyn Buchanan. Photo: Matt Brown.

Charity’s cross to table service

Gingham tablecloths, hot tea and scones with jam and cream, all served to the table, are a welcome addition to a community kitchen’s vital work.

Crossroads’ John’s Kitchen has nixed lines, opting instead to provide service to sitting patrons after rethinking the way they served customers following the COVID-19 pandemic.

And they’re embracing the opportunity for change by streamlining their processes and providing a more “relaxed” atmosphere.

Crossroads kitchen manager Richard McDonald says moving to table service has made the area, especially around the kitchen, more spacious and convenient.

“We had a rethink over the shutdown about how we deliver our service to our customers,” he says.

“We thought about doing a silver service but most of us were born with a plastic spoon in our mouths,” he laughs.

“We’ve rejigged our roster so about 80 per cent of our volunteers are on table service.

“One or two teams of servers supported by one or two in the kitchen.”

He says the pandemic underlined the shortfalls in the structure of their processes.

“During COVID, there was a high demand for frozen meals,” he says. “All our regular homeless were housed within a week – thanks to Housing First – and everyone’s benefits went up.

“There was less demand on us than expected, but it was stressful.”

The kitchen was providing up to 100 frozen meals each week.

He says he spent a lot of time following up with vulnerable members of the community.

“We have a list of about 24 people that we would check up on once a week.

“Social workers were picking up meals for people that were getting stuck.”

Meeting chair Niel Sowry takes feedback from worried Clubs of Marlborough members. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Future of social club in jeopardy

Potential bankruptcy and claims of bullying are threatening the survival of one of Marlborough’s oldest clubs.

The running of the Clubs of Marlborough has come under fire from anxious members who fear for its future.

About 140 people packed into the Redwoodtown Community Hall on Sunday to voice their concerns and discuss a way forward.

Members say they have been kept in the dark by a non-communicative committee and fear the struggling club may go under.

President Jason Clouston, who alongside other committee members was invited to the meeting but did not attend, came under fire for alleged bullying tactics.

Meeting chair Niel Sowry warned the crowd to be careful to stick to facts as Clouston had threatened legal action over anything libelous.

“Anyone that wants to talk, I have to advise you to be very careful that what you say is factual and can be proven.

“Social media has been alive with comments, a lot of them we cannot substantiate.

“There has been a threat of legal action if anything libelous is said, so please be careful if you want to say something.”

The move comes after sweeping plans to restructure the Club were announced earlier this month, with staff facing redundancy.

Concerned members say they did not understand why the Club had not reopened under level 2.

Sowry says the Club received wage subsidy payments for 56 staff members over lockdown.

Official documentation from the wage subsidy website shows the club received $356,000.

Members have earlier written a letter to the committee calling for a vote of no confidence in Clouston and an extraordinary general meeting.

No meeting has yet taken place.

“We could wait two years and still not see a meeting so the issue of confidence or non-confidence in anyone on committee is not addressed,” Sowry says.

“You want to do something, you’ve got to do it according to the rules, and the rules are deficient.”

Sowry told the crowd he was working with Clubs New Zealand and legal representation in Wellington.

“We have a president who tries to rule by fear and intimidation.

“It appears to be that he’s a bully when it comes to staff, and anyone that wants to stand up and oppose him, they get the treatment.

Tina Beattie says she stood for the committee and served but was forced to resigned because of bullying.

She claims the bullying had continued after she resigned.

A Committee of six were voted by members to approach the committee and get lines of communication going.

Members say the club needed a new committee to ensure it thrived.

Jason Clouston says they have advised by our Solicitors to refrain from commenting on issues arising from the Clubs restructuring process which is currently ongoing.

“Members will be notified shortly on the time and date of the Extraordinary General Meeting requisitioned by the Sowrys.”

In a statement, RSA president Chris Bamber asked members to bear with them through this difficult time.

“It is a stressful time for all concerned in the Clubs of Marlborough restructure process.

“I know it is hard for our members not knowing what is happening, hearing all the rumours, out there but please bear with us for a little longer and know we are working our hardest at getting our Club back to a stage where we can all enjoy our Clubs’ facilities and activities again.”

Big changes ahead for Little Theatre

Over the decades, thousands of performers have trodden its boards, but Picton Little Theatre was on shaky ground.

The historic venue needs earthquake strengthening to bring the landmark building up to modern building codes.

And a funds boost from Marlborough District Council means vital reinforcing work looks likely to go ahead.

Committee Chair Carmen Gimpl helped secure a $7,000 grant from the annual plan this month to put towards theatre funds.

Combined with $5,000 left over from last year’s successful $26,000 bid, the charitable trust now has enough to approach other agencies for money.

“We’re keen to do it quickly.

“It [the theatre] constantly needs work so we really want to keep going while the momentum is there,” Carmen says.

From left, Chrissy Powlesland, Val Griffith-Jones, Joy Fletcher, Allison Hargrave, Sheira Hudson and Phil Crawford are looking forward to seeing the Little Theatre get some vital strengthening work done. Photo: Paula Hulburt.
From left, Chrissy Powlesland, Val Griffith-Jones, Joy Fletcher, Allison Hargrave, Sheira Hudson and Phil Crawford are looking forward to seeing the Little Theatre get some vital strengthening work done. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

To be eligible to approach agencies such as Rata for funds, the group must have $11,000 of the $33,000 needed to strengthen the building.

National Building Standards says if a building’s seismic resistance capacity is calculated as less than 34 per cent it is considered earthquake prone.

The engineer’s report gave the old theatre, built about 1886, a 26 per cent rating.

Reinforcing work will take around two weeks and should hopefully be finished by the end of the year, says Carmen.

The building hosts professional and amateur theatre, concerts, meetings, table tennis, dance classes and private functions.

Carmen says the 8-strong committee have great plans for the theatre.

“We put on 10 professional shows a year and really want to upgrade the bar area and see more people use the theatre.

“The theatre has been part of the town for a long time, so it makes sense to make sure it’s still here for generations to come.”

The committee have planned a Monster Garage Sale for 27 June to help raise funds for future improvements.

Carmen says it would be great if people can show their support by donating goods or turning up on the day.

Donations of household goods, tools, clothes and books can be dropped off on the day at the theatre on 9 Dublin Street or the night before between 4 and 6pm.

“Please come along and support the theatre and find out more about what we do too. We’d love more members,” Carmen says.

Marlborough Girls’ College students Beth Gray, Destiny Aires and Vita Elworthy. Photo: Matt Brown.

Business students’ wake up call

Students needing a good night’s sleep have sparked a business idea for a team of college entrepreneurs.

Four Marlborough Girls’ College business students have created special sprays to help people relax at night and feel refreshed in the morning.

Their new company, Mellow, is fully funded by the team who hope their new venture will get the money coming in.

The team settled on the facial sprays after their market research revealed many of their peers often felt tired or rundown.

Mellow chief executive Destiny Aires says the facial sprays weren’t the group’s first business idea.

Butter sticks, dog biscuits and reselling secondhand clothing were all ideas left on the cutting room floor, she says.

“We came up with a few ideas before we settled on Mellow. We had to think of a problem or an issue and then solve it.

“One of the sprays calms your mind and relaxes you. The other reinvigorates you and wakes you up in the morning.”

Production and communications manager Vita Elworthy says expert help was invaluable to get the sprays to trial stage.

Vita says the team made the most of their business mentor Erena Oliver’s knowledge of essential oils.

“She explained the properties of the oils and we made our own recipe based on that,” Vita says.

“We had a few prototypes – the first one didn’t smell too nice. We had to make it appeal to people – to make it smell nice and make people want to put it on.

“It applies to everyone, but we’re targeting youth.”

Destiny, who’s aiming to be a hotel manager, says business studies and the practical experience was really useful.

Finance director Beth Gray says the project has been exciting.

“It’s fun having full control, from the logo to the packaging,” she says.

“We’ve all contributed ideas.

“It would be cool to keep it going.”

Beth and Vita are looking to take a more creative route in their future – but both agreed the business experience was an eye-opener.

“Alongside tiredness and not getting enough sleep – it won’t lead to breakouts,” Vita says.

“It’s made for sensitive skin,” Destiny adds.

The young entrepreneurs will soon take up a stall at the Sunday Farmers’ Market with the sleep sprays retailing at $12.99.

Our tagline is ‘the natural way’, Destiny says.

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.

Marlborough Roads manager Steve Murrin at the soon-to-be upgraded roundabout near Redwoodtown. Photo: Matt Brown.

A roundabout solution to road safety

A solution to crashes at a notorious Blenheim roundabout could be rolled out across the region if it works.

Fourteen accidents, some serious, have happened at the roundabout at Alabama Road and Weld Street over the last five years.

Marlborough District Council’s Assets and Services committee have revealed plans to slow down traffic which comes at a social cost of about $550,000 a year.

Marlborough Roads manager Steve Murrin says the $300,000 raised roundabout and ramps will be used on all intersections to slow people down.

“Depending on the severity of the accident, the social costs can be huge in terms of ACC claims, time off work and hospital care.

“It’s not the most dangerous in terms of the number of accidents but they are more severe and something had to be done.”

Plans for the proposed roundabout upgrade. Photo: Supplied.

And after an 18-month trial period other potentially dangerous roundabouts on Weld Street, Seymour Street and Maxwell Road could get the same treatment.

This option will help to reduce vehicle speeds and improve facilities for walking and cycling, Steve says.

“The raised roundabout will create less of an impediment for heavy vehicles than other options, and it will also feature urban design treatments to reduce the impact to residents.

“A zebra crossing, with a speed indication sign is also proposed on the Alabama Road Western approach for the nearby school and sports grounds.

“This will further help to reduce the approach speed from this direction,” he says.

Following the Committee’s decision last week, Marlborough Roads will consult with nearby residents, school and businesses before a final design is completed.

Construction works could begin this summer.

A zebra crossing will also be put down on the roundabout exit closest to Redwoodtown School, with a speed indicator sign on approach.

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.”

Skiers enjoying the Rainbow Ski Area last year. Photo: Supplied.

Ski area counts COVID cost

Rainbow Ski Area bosses are weighing up if opening this year will be possible after COVID-19 saw costs spiral.

The future of this winter’s season is reliant on community support.

And a one off $25 ‘Covid Tracing Fee’, to help cover coronavirus associated costs at the ski field, was scrapped yesterday.

The announcement of the fee was widely panned by commenters online but Rainbow Ski Area committee chair Mark Unwin says they’re on track to get the numbers needed to open.

“There are added costs we have to bear and we’re passing that on,” Mark told Marlborough Media last week.

But a post on social media last night saw Rainbow bosses ditch the controversial charge.

“We no longer have to employ staff for the bottom of the hill, put in connectivity and build the shed in the carpark,” it says.

Those who have already paid the fee will be refunded.

“We still need to be prepared in case we have to move back up the levels but at least we have the systems in place, ready, if we do,” he says.

The access road to the popular Nelson Lakes ski area was recently upgraded at the clubs’ expense – and Mark says skiers were subsidising other mountain users who use the road.

Rainbow Ski Area committee chair Mark Unwin.
Rainbow Ski Area committee chair Mark Unwin.

The planned ‘Covid Tracing fee’ was originally touted to cover costs of contact tracing, cleaning and to pay for the road upgrade.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on the road, we have increased costs and changed the ticketing system,” Mark says.

“It’s fairer for everyone using the mountain.

“No one wants to see extra fees but it’s all going to the mountain.”

“We’re a club field – we don’t have shareholder backing and we can’t take financial risk,” he says.

A flurry of posts on Facebook outlining the changes and increased fees attracted scores of negative comments with hopeful mountain-users raising questions about the affordability of visiting the local ski field.

“Is that per person? Not a bad price if you visit a lot in the season, will make it unaffordable for families who can only manage to go once in the season,” one commenter wrote.

Another posted: “What happened to making tourism activities cheaper for kiwis?”

Marks says they have put packages in place for non-skiers and ski rentals to lessen the burden on families and make it more affordable.

“We’d like to be able to do more, but it costs a lot of money to run the field,” he says.

“The alternative is to shut completely and see what happens next season – that just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.”

Tickets are only available online and staffing levels have been slashed in a bid to stay a step ahead should the country be forced into a higher alert level.

Multi-day, half day and learners area only tickets have been scrapped to streamline administration and make contact tracing easier.

The field will also close two days a week to give the smaller crew an opportunity to rest.

“We normally have around 40 staff, this year we’re running about 20,” Mark says.

Usually about a third of staff are from overseas, but with borders closed that was not an option.

“We could get staff from New Zealand if we had to, but [a smaller staff] allows us to scale up and down if we need to.

“If everything changed and we had to shut down there’s less financial risk.”

Mark says the club has about 72 days to make money to pay for facilities.

The committee is also looking at opening over the summer months for tramping, mountain biking and other activities.

“It would be good to spread the cost over a longer period,” Mark says.

Staff are aiming to open the mountain on Friday 24 July provided enough passes are sold with staff saying they are about 90 per cent there.

With snow forecast Mark says they’re on track to open.

“Lots of people love the mountain. We’re hopeful that we will get the support.”

Marlborough Heritage Trust regional collections manager Logan Coote with the mystery bottle. Photo: Matt Brown.

Mystery museum find puzzles experts

A mystery bottle packed away on a museum shelf for decades has baffled experts.

While cleaning out cupboards at the Edwin Fox museum in Picton during lockdown, Marlborough Heritage Trust regional collections manager Logan Coote came across treasure.

But instead of an ornate locked chest, this treasure came in a plastic, orange nail box.

An old bottle, thought to have come off the wreck of the Edwin Fox, has the museum staff scratching their heads.

“It looks like a 1780’s bottle,” Logan says.

“I posted pictures on a bottle collectors’ website and we think it’s probably American.

“We don’t know why it would be on the Edwin Fox.”

Logan says most of the treasures from the ship were small – discarded bric-a-brac that had fallen through cracks in the deck.

The bottle’s method of construction tipped off the archaeologist to its origins.

“It could be from an American whaling ship and got mixed up.

“It’s a mystery – but it’s nice to have.

“We’ll keep doing research.”

The “cheap” bottle, which probably held beer, is too large to have fallen through cracks.

“There were collectors in the Sounds that didn’t necessarily record where they found things,” Logan says.

“It’s not made particularly well, but it’s functional.”

He says it could have washed up on the beach – but documentation with the bottle says it’s from the Edwin Fox.

“It can take a bit of unravelling.”

The bottle wasn’t the only treasure found in the dusty cupboards hidden amongst decades-worth of meeting notes and accounts at the back of the Picton museum.

Porcelain from China and Japan, nuts used for food, pipe stems and prisoner of war art all saw the light of day for the first time since the 80’s.

“The miracle is it’s been looked after,” Logan says.

Marlborough Heritage Centre executive director Steve Austin says the ship is a national treasure.

“The Edwin Fox is unique in the world and the focus of two PHD studies,” he says.

“We do everything to preserve objects – how they’re interpreted changes over time.”

Steve says the past isn’t any less complicated than today – and without the material objects no research can be done.

Constructed in 1853 the Edwin Fox sailed through to the 1880’s.

It transported trade goods, soldiers, immigrants, and convicts.

“It had a real mixture of functions,” Steve says. “It was the roots of the global economy in Marlborough.”

Logan says treasure comes in unassuming packages.

“There’s enough to get excited about,” he says.

Steve says their goal is to keep the best artifacts safe.

Marlborough Museum and the Edwin Fox Museum are both open, with staff encouraging locals to come, learn about the history of the region and explore your own back yard.