9 Nov 23 - Resident stories

Making a really good sort

What do you call a man with a twinkle in his eye who makes Christmas presents for New Zealand’s children? No, it’s not Santa Claus – it's kindly Cantabrian Paul Brown. You might recognise the Summerset on Cavendish resident from the 1 News Good Sorts segment, where he was celebrated back in May for his unfailing generosity towards those less fortunate than himself. “A resident here nominated me,” says Paul. “I was really surprised when they got in touch with me. Within a week they had come down and interviewed me at my shed.”

‘Shed’ is an understatement; the huge commercial space that Paul owns a few hundred yards from his villa at Summerset is filled with heavy-duty machines that would make professional tradies envious. Paul’s workshop has everything he needs to create the 400-odd toys he makes a year for Santa’s Workshop, a Christchurch-based charity. “I bought good stuff,” Paul says, “because I wanted it to last. I have been doing this for around 10 or 12 years.” Paul originally made the toys at the charity’s own workshop, visiting a couple of times a week. “But a man nicknamed Frank Fingerless was there – so called because he’d lopped them off at the workshop. So I thought I’d be safer in my own place!”

Paul makes a vast array of wooden toys, including bulldozers, steamrollers, trucks, dolls’ deckchairs, ironing boards, trolleys, and hammer and peg boards. Despite his expertise on the tools, he didn’t grow up in the building trade but rather was a dairy farmer. His fondness for cows is evident, from his mooing ringtone on his phone – “My granddaughter set that up” – to his car licence (‘No cows’) to the sign in his workshop for Brou-Leigh, his old farm. “I had cattle for 50 years. But I have always liked woodworking; I am self-taught. You do a lot yourself as a farmer. I got a rough pattern for graders off the internet.” Paul also watches a lot of how-to videos on YouTube.

Paul with some of the toys he has made

Paul has his own production line and makes the toys in parts, assembling them only when it is close to the time the charity collects them in October. “It’s much easier to store them when they are in bits. I couldn’t tell you how long it takes to make each one, but I can tell you that wheels are probably the hardest, as there are so many of them. Wheels are repetitive and boring!” Once assembled, the toys are oiled by other volunteers at Santa’s Workshop, and some are also painted by the commercial painter the charity has on board. “The charity gives me the wood, which is off-cuts of pine from a wood merchant. I am here every day from around 8:30 until around 3pm.” Paul prefers to work on his own. “I don’t want to be responsible for anyone cutting their fingers off!” he laughs.

Paul’s generosity to kids extends beyond making toys. As a member of the Rotary Club for the past decade, he also raises funds to support local youth touch rugby teams. “We fundraise by selling spuds. We grow new potatoes on 3 acres and sell them in 2kg boxes. We sell about 10,000 boxes.”

Perhaps it was because of the family he and his beloved wife of 52 years, Joan – who sadly passed away eight years ago – has that inspired Paul to make toys. “We had three children, and we have several grandchildren. They are too old to play with the toys, though. They are in their twenties!”

It was always Paul’s plan to move to a retirement community, and he relocated to his 3-bedroom villa at Summerset on Cavendish two years ago. “It gets great light here. It is sunny, warm and I like the outlook,” Paul says. “My old workshop was in the four-car garage at my old house. It’s handy to have such a big workshop just across the road from the village.”

This is an article from the Spring 2023 edition of Summerset Scene magazine

Click here to read the full issue