Elemental Distiller's Ben Leggett celebrated two events recently. Photo: Matt Brown.

New babies for Marlborough distiller

The hectic birth of a Marlborough distillery coincided with a birth of the more natural kind.

After years in the making, Elemental Distiller co-owner Ben Leggett, released his Marlborough Roots Dry Gin recently.

And in a quirk of fate, his son Toby was born the day before the first scheduled bottling.

“Long story short, I took a single bottle … Toby’s cut, and that’s going to be the bottle that we will probably open for his 21st birthday.

“Even though it added a bit of stress to the day, it’s a nice memory that we’ve got this first bottle of gin taken from the absolute sweetest part of the gin cut.

“ … that will always be Toby’s bottle of gin and hopefully one day he will be able to enjoy it.

Ben Leggett with his new son, Toby. Photo: Supplied.
Ben Leggett with his new son, Toby. Photo: Supplied.

“It was by no means a planned event, it’s just the way life works sometimes,” Ben says.

Since it was first released at Feast Marlborough, the Roots Dry Gin has been a big hit.

The dad of two says his timing was good as the region has embraced the newest addition.

“Despite the love and scale of the wine industry here, people seem to be gin fiends as well.

Ben says the day Toby was born, he had 200 litres of his first gin run ready to go.

“The day that my son Toby was born, I had 200 litres of my very first gin run sitting in the still waiting to be run off”.

He says once both mother and baby were well and resting in hospital, he was given permission to shoot away and deal with it.

“We seem to be timing it quite well with a bit of a gin renaissance that Marlborough seems to be going through,” he says.

The distillery is based at Vines Village off of Rapaura Rd.

Vice president Louis Lefebre says the centre has a big impact on many lives; his own included. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Money shortfall threatens RDA future

Marlborough Riding for the Disabled is facing a battle for survival.

Members of the Blenheim charitable organisation have pleaded for help as they reveal the severe financial struggle they face.

Funds were so tight, the centre was operating on a “hand to mouth” basis.

Vice president Louis Lefebre says the centre has a big impact on many lives; his own included.

The engineer was paralysed in a freak skiing accident at Mt Hutt in 2010, while celebrating his son’s 17th birthday.

He helps oversee vital maintenance projects at the Churchward Park facility.

“Riding was not part of my life…when I came out of Burwood I couldn’t even sit on a chair without falling over.

“Most of the clients either haven’t got the ability physically or mentally to sum up what it does for them so I’m speaking on their behalf.

“I’ll ask the little kids how they’re riding’s going, and some can’t speak but there’s a smile that comes up and you know it’d been a positive experience.

“But the stress of worrying about the money takes away from what we’re trying to do. We’re not empire building here, we just want to do our best”, he says.

Vice president Louis Lefebre and volunteer Roslein Wilkes with a user of the Riding for the Disabled programme. Photo: Paula Hulburt.
Vice president Louis Lefebre and volunteer Roslein Wilkes with a user of the Riding for the Disabled programme. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Long-time coach and volunteer Roslein Wilkes revealed it costs $85 to put just one rider on a horse.

Costs were recouped at $20 per rider and with 80 riders a week, the centre was left with a huge shortfall.

“We’re trying to make that up all the time,” she says.

The group caters for children and adults from across Marlborough, with children from almost every school attending in some capacity.

With many horses retiring, demand outstrips supply, says Louis.

The horse he rode on, Pepsi, sadly died just before December and the centre cannot afford to buy a replacement.

“I haven’t been able to ride since then as there is no other horse suitable,” he says.

There is a waiting list of five adults.

RDA committee member Tim Smit revealed the Blenheim-based centre was facing a daily funding battle and had become a victim of its own success.

He implored members of Marlborough District Council to consider extending the help they already offer.

“Like most charitable organisations, our time is spent on trying to raise funds.

“We rely entirely on the goodwill of donations. It’s a hand to mouth business, with barely enough money one or two months ahead.

“When people rely on us for pay, this can be very stressful,” he says.

The RDA rent the building from Marlborough District Council for a “peppercorn” figure.

Council staff have been instrumental in helping cut soaring power bills in half, says Tim.

But the group hope council will help again in any way they can, from maintaining the property and grounds in terms of cash or supplying contractors.

Blenheim councilor Jenny Andrews praised volunteers for all their efforts.

Having visited the centre for herself, she says it is easy to see the positive difference it makes.

“I came back thinking three words; transforming, magic and hope.

“It’s like a miracle, with smiles as wide as the skies,” she says.

For further information about donating or volunteering visit facebook.com/pages/Marlborough-Riding-for-the-Disabled

Since this article appeared in print, the RDA has been successful in securing $10,000 towards maintenance costs from Marlborough District Council in their annual Long Term Plan.

Animal neglect warning

An animal rescue charity is warning neglect and cruelty is spiraling out of control as authorities fail to act.

Marlborough Dog Pawz volunteers are accusing council and the SPCA of not doing enough to help to address serious issues.

The number of cases of animal abandonment and neglect are reaching dire proportions, they say.

Marlborough Dog Pawz co-founder Michelle Madsen says the charity is swamped dealing with cases of abandonment and neglect.

And she says desperate members of the public are turning to them for help as the SPCA refuses to act.

Foster carers are working night and day to help but the situation is critical, says Michelle.

“It’s just horrendous.

“This is a huge issue; it’s getting worse and council are not addressing it.

“The sights we see are terrible but if we don’t try and help, who will?”

The non-profit group was started in March 2017, originally to support responsible dog ownership.

The main objective being to help with desexing costs and to assist, where possible, with vaccinations, food and bedding.

But, Michelle says, it quickly became clear animals’ lives were also at risk; with not everyone willing to accept help.

“I’ve had people threaten to kill me or bash my head in,” she says.

Marlborough Dog Pawz focuses their efforts on dogs but can’t ignore the number of kittens being abandoned. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

At one Blenheim property, Michelle says there are 11 cats all living in their own filth.

The remains of a dead kitten were discovered rotting on the driveway.

“We’ve complained to the mayor, but he didn’t take our concerns seriously.

“The council need to be enforcing by-laws. Animals are suffering through inaction,” she says.

Marlborough District Council’s Animal Bylaws 2017 forbid people from keeping more than four cats over the age of three months without prior written permission.

But pleas for help have so far fallen on deaf ears, says Michelle.

“There’s cat poo piled up everywhere, cats full of fleas with their ribs sticking out and yet the council’s first concern was to tell us off.

“Even if SPCA staff do come out, which they don’t always it can be days later, and the suffering just goes on.

“The SPCA is too top heavy, too many management positions in Auckland and not enough being done at a local level.

“There aren’t even animal inspectors based here, and the centre is always full.

“It’s virtually impossible to get them to take in a kitten,” says Michelle.

Animal advocate Alex Stowasser works with Marlborough Dog Pawz.

She is horrified by some of what she has seen,” she says.

Top of her wish list for change would be compulsory desexing for dogs and cats, an end to keeping dogs chained up and backyard breeding.

“People have no idea how truly bad this situation is.”

Marlborough District Council and the SPCA have been contacted for comment.

Donations can be made to Marlborough Dog Pawz at BNZ 02 0600 0299421 000 or to The Vet Centre Marlborough, ASB 12 3605 0005262 00.

Witnesses sought for marina smash

Alcohol could be to blame after a boat smashed into Picton’s wharf.

The boat, from Wellington was heading into Picton Marina on Friday about 5pm when it crashed into the wharf, near the Coat Hanger bridge.

Witnesses to the crash are being sought by Picton Harbour Master Luke Grogan as prosecution is a possibility.

He says he believes drink may have contributed to the crash, which left a hole of around two-and-a-half metres square.

“It was apparent to me that there had been alcohol involved. We need to find out whether that was a factor in what happened.

“Looking at CTV there were quite a number of people who saw it. It was early evening and a nice day and people had just been leaving work,

“We need to put together elements and see what factors were involved.

“I’d be very keen to hear from anyone who saw it happen or indeed saw the boat arrive in the marina,” he says.

The Sun Dancer travelled across the Cook Strait into Picton and speed has also not been ruled out as a factor, says Luke.

The Sun Dancer smashed into the wharf on Friday. Photo: Supplied.

There is a five-knot speed limit within 200 metres of the shore. Fixed speed cameras were also rolled out in Marlborough in October 2017.

“We need to look at the facts and evaluate if there’s been a breach of the Maritime Safety Act”.

Police were called to the scene on Friday and spoke to people on the boat.

The Marina is owned by Port Marlborough and Maritime New Zealand would be the most likely party to take enforcement action.

In the first instance, it is Marlborough District Council and the harbor master who oversee the initial investigation.

Luke says that inappropriate behavior is sadly not unusual.

“Unfortunately, it’s not an unusual case to have behavior that’s less than ideal.

“We want to connect with as many people as possible who saw what happened.

“From that we’re starting to build a picture of what happened and to see if speed or alcohol contributed,” he says.

Picton offers permanent and visitor berths for vessels from eight to 35 metres plus.

Port Marlborough infrastructure manager Gavin Beattie says he hopes repair work would start in the next week.

He says he did not think the rebuild would be too expensive in terms of cost.

“It doesn’t affect the structure, but we would want it repaired reasonably quickly to keep boats and wash away.

“The broken timber pickets will need to be removed and new ones put in place”.

Port Marlborough maintain a regular program of on-going maintenance, says Gavin, who has been manager at the busy port since 2012.

Anyone who witnessed the crash or has information that may be useful to the investigation should contact the harbour master via [email protected] or contact 520 7400.

The girl behind the headlines

Aaron Goodwin is talking about his cousin Jess Boyce in the past tense. It is a bad day; despair and grief his constant shadows.

On other mornings, Aaron is sure she will be found alive and well or come bouncing back through the door, full of apologies and breathless explanations.

But the torment of not knowing where the bright-eyed blond is, is taking its toll on all the family. It is both relentless and exhausting.

Not a day goes by where Aaron does not think of her; the girl he grew up with.

“Some days I wake up and I feel completely pessimistic, I think of Jess in the past tense and other days I can’t wait to see her and tell her about a cool spot I’ve found or something.”

The pair are very close and grew up together in the same house in Renwick. Jess’s girlhood room was decorated with Harry Potter movie posters.

She was captivated by the books and movies, her room a testament to her  love all things Hermione and Harrs. While her interests have changed and matured, the hopeful girl who loved life is still there insist her family.

“We were more like siblings than cousins,” say Aaron who oversees the ‘Help Find Jess’ website on behalf of the family.

27-year-old Jess loved life and “very social”. She was always the first person to put her hand up to help others struggling with mental health issues.

Although Jess suffered her own battle recently,  struggling with feelings of guilt following a car accident in which a friend died, Aaron is confident she did not take her own life.

“In the whole 27 years of knowing Jess, of hearing her deepest, darkest thoughts, she never spoke to me about suicide. I just know Jess wouldn’t go there,” he says.

Jess’s love of adventure would see her go off on her own from time to time; she loved to camp and enjoyed nature.

Music, says Aaron, would play wherever she went, a song accompanied everything she did.

But  no matter how far she ventured, she always had her phone with her and never let her family worry about her.

“She loved her music, you never saw Jess without her music, she always came with music.

“She was very sociable and always visiting friends, she wasn’t one of those young people who slept in during the day, she was an early riser and would always have friends around or be out visiting friends,”  Aaron says.

Rumours have been rife on social media about the former Marlborough Girls’ College student and a possible link with methamphetamine.

Regardless of what she may have been involved with, she always believed the best in people, says Aaron.

“Once the word meth pops up, people stop thinking of her as a person and instead imagine she some hard woman, someone she just wasn’t.

“She was so innocently naïve and genuinely did not understand about consequences, but she was not the hard woman that some people seem to think she was.

“We’re talking about an almost 30-year-old woman whose favourite movies were old Disney ones.

“She looked at the world through rose-coloured glasses.”

Together with Aaron, Jess attended Seymour Kindergarten. She was a pupil at Whitney Street School before moving on to Bohally intermediate and then Marlborough Girls’ College.

Her younger self peers out of an old family photo of both Aaron and Jess at preschool; a smiley, happy girl with the world at her feet.

Aaron speaks with quiet pride about how Jess went to community college to obtain further NCEA credits.

“I know she was keen on starting an alternative-style clothing line. She started practising with sewing machines and finding different kinds of fabric to use.” Aaron says.

A sausage dog called Alice was Jess’s constant companion for many years.

“Jess was into people and into animals. She really was the best of people; she had such an uplifting spirit.

Aaron says there have been no confirmed sightings of Jess since her sudden disappearance.

The close-knit pair spent almost every day together up until 3-years-ago when Aaron moved to Dunedin.

For Aaron and her family, Jess’s absence is nothing short of heartbreaking and some of the information they have received via public tip-offs has, he says, been “harrowing”.

But despite whisperings on social media about the police not doing enough to find Jess, Aaron is adamant they are working hard.

“I can see that people are getting frustrated but there’s a process and it’s been explained to us. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that we’ve been asked not to talk about, but I know the police are working hard.

“They are in constant contact with aunty Kay and it’s a bit unfair of people to be on social media tugging their chain.

While the days where the dread becomes overwhelming are many, Aaron says he has not lost all hope.

Some of the family have prepared for the worst and are ready to accept that Jess is gone. But for Aaron, there are still days where he pictures her walking back through the door.

“We just miss her so much.”

Anyone with any information can contact Blenheim police on 03 578 5279 or anonymous tips can be passed on to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.