28 Apr 23 - Resident stories

Village Fix-tures

Residents of Summerset Mountain View don’t need to go far if they need something made or mended — they simply cross the village to find a member of the Residents’ Workshop. “Walking sticks, belts, shoes,” says Neil Spedding. “You name it, we do it. We take requests!”

Neil has been the mainstay of the Residents’ Workshop for six years, since he moved into the Summerset village in New Plymouth with his wife, Bev. He, along with five others — Ian Donald, Graham Steele, Noel Titchener, Phil Mayhead and Allan Meads — has been responsible for creating many of the wooden pieces around the village, including the 30-odd Christmas trees recycled from pallets, and a wooden Santa, sleigh and reindeer. “Our collection has grown over the years. We decorate them with solar lights, too. Come Christmastime the village looks very festive.”

From left to right: Neil, Noel, Graham, Allan and Ian.

Seasonal decorations aside, the group are well known for making other items. Rummikub tile holders, wooden toys for the grandchildren, bird feeders and jigsaw puzzle trays are all popular items. “We have made about 125 Rummikub sets. A lot of the residents here like to do 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, so we make trays for them that can slide under the sofa or the bed. I’d say we have made about 60. We make them with drawers, too, to hold the pieces. Other popular items are native wood coasters, lazy Susans and coffee tables. We make them plain or patterned. We display them in the main building twice a year to show people our wares.”

It is not just the residents and their families who benefit from the skills of the group, but also the wider community. “The village is close to the pony club's grazing land. There was a bench in their field that was in a sorry state. We stripped it back, rebuilt it and presented it back to them.” The group are also involved with New Horizons Aotearoa. “A local building firm supplies us with the timber required for making flatpack rodent traps, which are assembled by local schoolchildren and then placed in the mountain national park.” The group also helps to keep the village looking nice. “We repainted all the outdoor furniture. Summerset provided the paint and we put our hands up.”

Left: Santa greets the village. Right: The workshop space.

From their meetings early on in a shipping container, the group moved into a proper workshop space five years ago. Hand tools the members brought with them when they moved to the village were pooled, and a bench saw and drop saw were donated. The group acquire timber from several sources, but often come by offcuts from building sites, or from the grown children of residents. “Several residents have family in the trades, so we are often gifted it. It keeps our costs down as the only timber we need to buy is for the Rummikub sets and the jigsaw puzzle trays. We did have to be a bit strict, though, as people started to just dump their rubbish at our door!” The group ask for a donation for their work — sometimes only chocolate biscuits for repairing items. Commissioned items are charged, but a fraction of what it would cost to buy in the shops. “We do this for our fellow residents. Otherwise they would have to pay a tradesperson, and they charge just to visit! We use the money to build up the basic supplies, such as glue and sandpaper. We have built up our tool collection over time too. We have a wood lathe now, and a thicknesser.”

Surprisingly, there is not a carpenter among the six-strong team. “I suppose we came from an era when we had to learn to do things ourselves because of supply shortages after the war,” Neil says thoughtfully. “We had to work out how to build and fix things. Before retirement, Ian, Noel and Graham were farmers, Phil was a motor mechanic, Allan an electrician and I was a procurement and logistics co-ordinator in the oil industry.”

The mixed background of the men means that the group all do a bit of everything. “We like to throw ideas around. We are quite critical of one another’s work and aren’t shy to speak up about it. We work well together.”

This is a friendly village and we have been well supported by management. I think it’s the comradeship between us that has kept the group going for so long. We are here together for about 2.5 hours every morning. There is a fair bit of yakking and putting the world to rights over the essential coffee break chats.”

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

Click here to read the full issue