Our Volunteers

Volunteer: Anne Kavanagh

March 3rd, 2020

Anne Kavanagh, visits John Mead as part of our visiting service. She has been visiting him for around a year and started when John was ‘a bit down to it”. But he is doing ‘alright now’, thanks to Anne and Nurse Maud. This is their story.

John was born on 6 October 1934 at the Nurses Home in Wakefield. His family lived at Motupiko opposite Quinney’s Bush. He lived there until he was four and then, towards the end of the Depression, his parents bought a large block of land up the Rainey River for £200. Times were tough but fortunately his mother was a seamstress who made all their clothes and they lived off the land. From the age of 7, John boarded with his grandparents in Wakefield so he could attend school. In 1944 his parents purchased a 1,600 acre  farm at Korere and John attended Tapawera Area School. He left school at age 15 to work on the family farm. “In those days you worked for your tucker, boots and shirt” says John “so that’s what I did”. John began shearing when he was 18, after returning from his compulsory military training. It took him a while to get the hang of it and he was paid 37 shillings and sixpence for every 100 sheep. “When I started it took all day to do 100 sheep, but after a while I got up to 200 per day”.

In 1955, at age 20, John attended a shearing course run by the NZ Wool Board who taught the Bowen technique. Godfrey Bowen of Hastings was the fastest shearer in the world, setting his record in 1953 by shearing 456 sheep in nine hours. In those days, a top shearer in the South Island was lucky to do 200 a day, so the Wool Board hired Bowen to form a team of 30 instructors to run courses throughout New Zealand to improve the standard of shearing. From herein John trained more than 100 young shearers in a season, running four- or five-day courses in districts from North Canterbury through Marlborough to Nelson and Golden Bay. He also started competitions and show demonstrations.

John was a hard worker and being a child of the depression, he was very careful with his money. Through hard work and being thrifty, he was able to purchase a 720 acre block of hill country by the time he was 21 in 1956. He meet his wife Joycelyn in 1958 and they married a year later and subsequently had five daughters.

John was also a good shearer himself. He and his late brother Tom had a shearing run, with 110,000 sheep on their books to shear between October and March each year. Back in the 1960s shearing was well regarded and a key part of rural life. In 1963 John received a special invitation to shear before the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Fraser Park, Lower Hutt. Public demonstrations were big back then. The shearers had to synchronise, working on the same part of the sheep in unison. They also sheared blindfolded, which was a crowd favourite. John also shore a few times in the shop window of Nelson store McKay’s, where wool-to-fashion demonstrations showed the fleece being taken off the sheep, spun and then knitted into a jersey!

In the late 1960s John contracted spinal meningitis in the middle of a shearing season. In those days there was no ACC so if you didn’t work, you didn’t get paid. He lost all coordination between his legs, arms and brain. John forced himself to return to work as soon as he could and on his first day back he had to be carried out of the shearing shed, having collapsed.

John  was twice offered the opportunity to go to India to train shearers. He turned down the first offer because his wife was expecting a baby. In 1970, he again got a ring from Bowen asking if he wanted to go. Initially John was reluctant as had just bought the family farm and was heavily mortgaged. However, after consulting with his bank and State Advances, he was told he would be’ a fool not to go’, and John is no fool! So off he went for five months to train shepherds in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh as part of United Nations aid to India. John says it was possible only because of the support of his wife Joycelyn and their five daughters, who kept the farm running.

Running the farms was a family affair. John was busy with his shearing as well as working the farms. They were not at the stage of hiring a farm worker so his wife did a lot of farm work and his daughters also helped. Life is not easy living on the land and there were some tough times. When he purchased the family farm in 1970 he was ‘mortgaged to the hilt’ with a development loan costing 18 percent interest. There was a severe drought in 1982 and he lost a lot of stock. John recalls “I opened all the gates and it was survival of the fittest. Ewes were only worth 25cents”.

John’s contribution to shearing was recognised in 2009 when he was awarded Life Membership of Shearing Sports South Island. John and his wife moved to Brightwater in June 2017 and he sold the Korere farm to a neighbour. John regrets he did not move earlier as his wife had been in ill-health for some time and was struggling with the stairs out at Korere. John did find it an adjustment moving from Korere to a small suburban section of 600m2 but life got really hard for him when Joycelyn died in September 2018. John explains “I did struggle and got a bit down on it. I was confined to a 600m2 section. I can’t walk (due to an ankle problem), have hip trouble (all those years of shearing), can’t drive or read as I have macular degeneration. I struggle with 4-7pm  on the weekends in particular”. John notes “I’ve been around people all my life, I’ve been a School Trustee, shearing instructor, on Federated Farmers”. It was also disappointing to him that only one of Joycelyn’s friends made contact after her death. John states “I know lots of people but most of my shearing or rugby mates are all gone”.

John saw some information about Age Concern in the Greypower handbook so gave us a call. Susan Arrowsmith, our AVS Coordinator called round and matched him up with Anne Kavanagh, who had recently registered with us as an AVS volunteer.

Anne saw an article in a local paper noting Age Concern needed volunteers and thought “I could do that!” She was used to spending lots of time with her mother, mother’s sister and brother, all whom were in Stillwater.  Anne is motivated by a genuine interest in people and desire to find out more about the past. She grew up in Nelson before moving away after she was married. “Mum is not here to ask so it is great to have someone like John and hear his stories. You learn so much from the elderly”, she says.

Anne had a rural upbringing. Her father managed the Golden Hills Orchard and then McKee & Sons Orchard. Her upbringing means Anne and John have a shared understanding of working on the land and some similar values. After she married in 1972 Anne left the district for many years as her husband was with the BNZ. They lived in a number of places including Wellington, Dunedin and then back to Wellington. When her husband retired, they returned to Nelson and have been here for the past 8 years.

John notes he has had some tough times after Joycelyn died but is ‘coming right’ thanks to Anne and Nurse Maud. He has decided ‘I’ve got to live again’ and his advice is to get all the assistance you can. He could not live in his house without the help he receives. He has Nurse Maud three times a week who cook and prepare meals for him which he then heats up in the microwave. His weekly visits from Anne have made a huge difference to his life. He greatly looks forward to these and the opportunity to have a chinwag, along with the cups of coffee and baking. John states the visits are invaluable to anyone who needs some company. “I had a great companion who was great to talk things through with. That’s what I really miss”. John feels it’s really useful to have someone outside the family to talk with. He notes his daughters are great but “I can’t impose on them all the time”. “We talk about all sorts of things” states Anne. “John is really positive and has some great stories. I just come and listen”. Anne also greatly enjoys these sessions and states “in my experience the volunteer gets even more out of it than the older person”.

John also goes on car trips once a week with someone who drives his car. He likes driving to places where he used to work and shear such as Lake Rotoiti and Cable Bay. John has 3 daughters nearby who do shopping for him and stock up the fridge and freezer.

Both John and Anne would advise anyone thinking of getting a visitor or becoming a visitor to ‘go for it’. If you would like to know more about this service then please contact Susan Arrowsmith on 5447624 ext 3 or coordinator@ageconcernnt.org.nz

Volunteer: Ash Wells

August 26th, 2019

Ash Wells is a great example of an inspiring older person who continues to live a full and interesting life well into his retirement. He is really enjoying this stage of his life. At 70 years of age, he is active and connected, has many hobbies and interests and enjoys being involved in several organisations as a volunteer. He also continues to work on a basis that suits his him and appeals to his interests. He particularly enjoys the laid back nature of this stage of life and feels lucky to be in reasonable health and able to fully participate in life. He feels sad when he seems people of a similar age are not able to do this, which encourages him to give back and keep doing things while he can.

Ash had an incredibly successful career as a watchmaker and businessman. After attending St Josephs and Nelson College, he became an apprentice watchmaker to Louis Kerr Jewellers in 1966. Ash felt this family business was slowly winding down so, once he was qualified, Ash headed to the bright lights of Wellington to work for Robert Harrap, based at Clements & Holmes Jewellers. The store expanded and moved into a larger workshop doing trade work for many stores in Wellington and further afield. Ash took over from Robert in 1976 and formed Capital Watch Services.

Ash stayed in Wellington for around 30 years owning and operating Capital Watch Services. The business has played an important role in training the next generation of watchmakers and in total 12 watchmakers learned their craft there before taking their skills around the world. Watchmaking has changed dramatically during the time Ash has been involved. When he first trained, watches were mechanical but changed to being quartz, then digital. Watchmakers declined during this time but now there is a swing back and all top quality watches are now mechanical. Capital Watch Services is now the only watch repair shop in Wellington.

Ash and his wife Carol moved back to Nelson 20 years ago. They retained ownership of Capital Watch Services but also bought Craighead Jewellers in Hardy St. Soon after they moved to a better placed shop in the Trathens Building in Trafalgar Street (called Tempus Jewellers). Ash says that Nelson was a hard place in which to run a business due to the variations in the economy, and high rents. It also has a lot of seasonal workers so the winter months were hard as people lacked the income during this time which had a big impact on retail.

Ash closed Tempus Jewellers around four years ago, but has continued to be actively involved in watchmaking. He is still the Managing Director of Capital Watch Services and commutes to Wellington either weekly or fortnightly to help and stay in touch with the business. Ash also has a small workshop at home and selectively does work which he finds interesting – a bit of antique work and general watch/small clock repairs. He does some restoration for collectors or for sale. Ash has worked hard on NOT collecting clocks and watches but he does have a few which he describes a ‘technically interesting’ due to their mechanics. He prefers the rare and obscure enjoying the workmanship in such pieces.

It should come as no surprise that Ash has an appreciation for the mechanical. He has a love of motorcycles and over the years has owned over 50 motorcycles and classic cars. He currently owns three motorbikes – a Triumph Thruxton R and a couple of Hondas. As he has become older Ash has downsized his bikes. He used to have a Ducati which was very big and fast but now prefers his Honda at 1200cc (still big and fast!), which he describes as ‘beautiful’ and ‘so reliable’.  Ash spent several years restoring a Triumph Stag car. He has owned a sleek white Jag which he recently sold and now has a zippy black MGRv8. He has also restored several bikes, building one from two wrecks. He also owns a Motocompo which is a 50cc fold up motorcycle aimed to fit in the boot of a Honda City. These were only manufactured  from 1981-1983 so are a real collector’s item.

Ash still goes out riding on a regular basis, he really enjoys the opportunities and lifestyle that owning a bike offers, pointing out that as there are so many different motorcycle groups in Nelson there is always someone to go out riding with. He recently described his prized possession as his motorbike over and above his unique watches and clocks!

Three years ago Ash and Carol moved to a 5 acre property in Enner Glynn and they are slowly building up an extensive garden and fruit trees. They are able to grow a range of fruit including avocado and he even has a banana plantation! They are looking at becoming more self-sufficient.

Ash is a member of Nelson West Rotary, recently having got an award for the best attendance. Through Rotary he heard that Age Concern was looking for drivers for our AgeConnect initiative. Ash volunteered and has been a driver with AgeConnect for a couple of years. He also drives for Red Cross and the Hospital. He started doing PetConnect with Duke, a very handsome Japanese Spitz but handed this over to his wife Carol who now does this.

At Age Concern we have been inspired by Ash’s approach to retirement. Retirement can be a challenge for some, particularly men because of the sudden lack of social contact and having something to do. However Ash has a rewarding balance between ongoing work, hobbies, interests and giving back to the community, including driving for Age Concern. Thanks Ash – we really appreciate all you do.

Thanks to Jewellery Time who featured an article on Ash in its June 2018 edition.




Volunteer: Sandy Stephens

May 9th, 2019

Sandy is a driver/host for AgeConnect. She has had an amazing life. See the article below to learn more. We are so lucky to have her as part of our team. 


Sandy Stephens had an amazing career spanning 35 years working in developing countries, implementing programmes to create sustainable food production within local rural communities. She hopes she has made a positive difference to the lives of those she worked with by empowering communities to achieve a sustainable and nourishing food supply.

Sandy was born in Nelson and grew up on ‘Woodstock’ orchard in Stoke and attended Nelson College for Girls where she developed an innate interest in developing countries. Whilst at College during the widespread famines in India she wrote to then Minister of Interior Mrs Indira Ghandi asking how she could help. She did get a reply ‘probably not from Mrs Ghandi’ which suggested she ‘get an education’ first.  Sandy describes the response as ‘a little patronising’ but it did not deter her and her interest remained.  While in her final year at Otago University she saw articles about the newly established Volunteer Service Abroad and thought that was something she’d like to do.

After graduating she taught for two years at Waimea College as part of her studentship agreement. To her surprise she discovered she greatly enjoyed teaching so decided to go to Auckland and obtain a Diploma in Secondary Teaching. For one of her teaching sections she asked to go to Fiji, which was then administered by New Zealand. Sandy was the first person to have their placement in Fiji and she greatly enjoyed her 6 weeks there. During this time she met the Head of Nutrition at the Fiji Medical School and she asked her to come back as a tutor in nutrition education under New Zealand’s Volunteer Service Abroad.

Fiji proved an important stepping stone to Sandy’s career and from there she went to Malaysia for four years where she worked under New Zealand’s Colombo Plan in community development, resettling landless people.  She managed a staff of 30 people who she trained in community development, nutrition and food production in home gardens. At this point Sandy felt she needed higher level qualifications so she completed her Masters in Rural Sociology at the University of Reading in Berkshire, UK in 1974.

Following that Sandy was offered a job with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. The FAO was established in 1945 and aimed to secure food security for all to make sure people had regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. Sandy’s first assignment, in 1975, was in Papua New Guinea. She stayed there for four years as Team Leader of a programme to introduce female students and food and nutrition courses into the three agricultural colleges in Rabaul, Popondetta and Mt Hagen. Under Australian rule the focus was on cash crops for export and local food production inevitably declined. Until then, expatriate staff had not seen a need to have women, the major food producers of the nation, educated in agriculture!

From PNG, Sandy worked at the Headquarters of the FAO in Rome in policy, programme and project planning. During  the following two years she travelled to many developing countries all over the globe to identify needs and help design projects to meet food needs of the poorest rural communities. One of these was Liberia where she worked with the then Minister of Agriculture to design a programme for the poorest communities in Eastern Liberia. Liberia had an unusual history. Following the abolition of slavery in the United States of America, Liberia was settled by formerly enslaved African-Americans. These people settled on the Coast and the indigenous population was pushed inland. The Americo-Liberians, or Congo or Congau people as they are now called, ruled Liberia as a dominant minority from 1847 until 1980 when there was a violent military coup d’état and the indigenous population took over. Sandy arrived in 1979 and had created a sound reputation for herself and her work when the coup occurred. The President, William Tolbert was immediately executed along with 27 others. Subsequently 13 members of cabinet were also executed, Sandy’s Minister of Agriculture among them.  At this point, most foreigners were evacuated but Sandy was not, initially because she did not meet the criteria but also because she was told to stay by the incoming military government because ‘you do good work Missy’.  As Chief Technical Adviser she eventually established and grew the programme in over 100 village communities throughout the area. She was the only remaining white woman in Eastern Liberia, although two French priests and a Dutch doctor also remained. The years Sandy spent in Liberia were incredibly turbulent politically and Sandy witnessed and experienced many violent acts, yet she always felt safe and at home. She had the soldiers to protect her. Following the coup food was a real issue in Liberia and during her time there, Sandy was able to introduce development programmes that made an enormous difference in terms of creating sustainable food production for indigenous communities.

In 1983, Sandy returned to Rome for a further two years before a transfer to FAO’s regional office in Bangkok where she spent 12 years as the Senior Regional Rural Sociologist. From this office she visited all developing countries across Asia and the Pacific developing food production programmes as well as assessing the social consequences of agricultural change on poor rural people’s lives. She spent a lot of time in the poorer countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, post-war Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, Tibet and other parts of China and Mongolia, making sure that agricultural change did not disadvantage the poorest, especially rural women.

After all this time working abroad Sandy realised she would like to come back to New Zealand. She took early retirement from FAO at the age of 57 and returned to live in Nelson in 2000 to work as a free-lance consultant. Returning after so many years and all Sandy had seen and achieved was a huge adjustment but she did this gradually by continuing to work overseas on shorter assignments, coming home to write reports and to prepare for the next trip.

She travelled extensively in Asia, Africa and the South Pacific, continuing a substantial amount of the work for her previous employer FAO, as well as for the New Zealand and Australian Foreign Aid Departments and other bilateral and international aid agencies.  She was appointed to the Oxfam New Zealand Board of Trustees for a decade and then elected to the Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) Council.  Sandy aimed to fully retire by the time she was 68 but this did not quite happen and it was not until she was 70 that Sandy decided to stop all paid work. Even then she still kept some projects going, but over the last five years Sandy has managed to fully retire.

Sandy has fond memories of all the countries she has worked in and none really stands out. She did find some easier than others and also felt being a woman was both helpful in some situations and limiting in others. Overall she felt respected despite working in male dominated environments. Sandy did experience more than her fair share of harassment and judgement but she seemed to manage this skilfully and her outstanding reputation and skill set was a great leveller. She was fortunate that apart from cases of dengue fever and lassa fever she remained very healthy.  For her international work for the rural poor Sandy was made Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International in 1997 and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in the Queen’s birthday honours in 2000.

Sandy credits her rural upbringing with tramping and camping holidays for giving her the values and skills to undertake this work. Her rural background meant she could cope with being in the jungle or desert, living without electricity, cooking on a fire or drawing water from a well. She was familiar with farm machinery and basic mechanics. She feels there is something familiar globally about people who farm and her time in Liberia sitting under a tree having conversations with indigenous people reminded her of the way her father talked with their neighbours when she was growing up.

As she gradually retired, Sandy volunteered as a driver for the Red Cross Meals on Wheels programme, became a trustee of the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust and continued support to both Oxfam NZ and VSA.  For the last two years Sandy has been involved with Age Concern as a Volunteer Driver on our Van Trips as part of AgeConnect. She has kindly made her bach available during van trips to Stephens Bay near Kaiteriteri.

Thank You Sandy!




Volunteer: Darcy Hogue

January 24th, 2019

Meet Darcy Hogue.  Darcy started with us at AgeConnect when we were looking for volunteer drivers for our vans in a Community Transport Trial. Darcy had driving experience and we thought he would be perfect for the role.


Since then we have discovered Darcy is a real people person with the ability to strike up conversation with anyone and put them at ease very quickly. So, rather than become a regular driver for us, he has become one of our star van hosts.

Darcy is also very quick to put his hand up to help out at other AgeConnect events (including our AgeConnect Champion Awards), to do first aid training or to email us with a great idea for a Blokes Day Out. We are very lucky to have Darcy on our volunteer team. someone like Darcy who truly appreciates the company of older people and enables them to feel valued and share their amazing stories.

If you would like to become one of our valued volunteers, take a look at our get involved  page and get in touch.


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