30 Nov 23 - Resident stories

Work to live on familiar ground

For most people, retirement means saying goodbye to their workplace. Not so for Brian O’Neill, who has ended up living on the site where he used to deliver compost for his old employer. Summerset Prebbleton is built on the site of an old mushroom farm – Meadow Mushrooms. Not only did Brian formerly work on the site, but he and his wife, Ann, were the first people to move into Summerset’s fourth and newest Christchurch village.

Brian and Ann’s villa is a far cry from what the site looked (and smelled) like in its previous life as an international and domestic producer of fungi. “Each week 184 tonnes of button and Swiss mushrooms were produced, all picked by hand. And did it sometimes smell!” laughs Brian. The mushroom spores were put onto compost, which was a pungent mixture of peat, lime, gypsum, wheat straw and chicken droppings. Brian’s role was in haulage, and he was employed to bring in about 350 tonnes of the compost two days a week and carting spent compost for a further two and a half days a week. “There were about three or four of us bringing it in and out. The wooden growing racks were washed where our lovely villa is now!”

Brian worked for the company for about eight years, but a small stroke meant he was not allowed to drive commercially for three years, prompting his retirement. “We decided that eventually a retirement village would be on the cards. We wanted reassurance that if things deteriorated for us, healthwise, there would be facilities to take care of us,” says Brian.

The pair thought moving would be a lot further down the track for them and were looking on behalf of Brian’s widowed cousin.

“We happened to be looking through the fence during construction, and Brian remarked ‘That one will be our villa there,’” said Ann. “That’s when we started to have a serious conversation about bringing the move forward. We ended up buying off the plan.”

During their hunt with Brian’s cousin, the couple had visited the Summerset at Avonhead village several times and were struck by how comfortable they felt there. “We just felt right at home and got a really nice vibe from the place,” said Brian. “We had no qualms about buying off the plans for Prebbleton because Avonhead showed us what the village would be like and what the facilities would be when they all came in.”

The village’s origins as a farming site appealed to the pair, who appreciate the rural surroundings. When asked what it was like being the only ones there as the first residents in a village. Ann replies, “It was a little weird! That first night, once the staff went home we had the whole place to ourselves and we wandered around enjoying the space.”

The couple were the only residents for about a week before neighbours came to join them. Having had first choice of homes, Brian and Ann chose to live next to the home currently used for the village events and Happy Hour. “A short stroll from all the fun!” As the inaugural residents, Ann and Brian welcome their new neighbours with open arms, ensuring they get to know them at various events. The two have also taken enthusiastically to Rummikub, which the Activities Coordinator taught them.

“We actually didn’t have any expectations around the social side,” remarks Brian. “We thought we were just getting a house, but it’s like going to a resort that you bring your own furniture to!”

Ann agrees. “Everyone who lives here really gets on well. We all seem to be on the same wavelength. At our time of life you want to relax, enjoy yourself and not worry about things. There’s loads going on here and we also go off exploring a lot in our motorhome, which we have parking for up the road.”

Left: Residents hold a Market Day for the SPCA. Right: Matthew Purry is right at home.

Ann is also kept busy with her role as volunteer at the SPCA, where she spends part of each week looking after the cats. She also fosters them at home. The village is supportive, with the residents even holding a market day at the village, with all the profits going to items needed by the local SPCA. Ann says, “We raised around $1,100. It had excellent support from the residents at the village. We purchased travel cages, thirty cat toys, small play balls and heat pads for keeping kittens, post-surgery cats and unwell cats warm. All this was really appreciated by SPCA staff.”

Ann’s current foster is a mighty moggy who, despite being abandoned, resembles a small panther. Matthew Purry is recovering from an operation and appreciates the chance to lie around the villa, basking in the sunshine. “The SPCA provide all the necessities, but I buy him the cat toys,” says Ann. “I have fostered fifty-one cats over the years. A lot came through during Covid. We always used to have cats, but it’s hard to have a pet with a motorhome. Fostering is a good compromise.”

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

Click here to read the full issue