As an apprentice working at Ryman Healthcare’s Devonport construction site in Auckland, Lanson Teura was gradually working his way through a detailed tasklist to become a qualified carpenter.
That came to a grinding halt when New Zealand entered into Level 4 lockdown on 26 March, prompting all of the retirement village operator’s Kiwi construction sites to close down.
Since being founded in 1984, Ryman has pioneered in the sector with its approach of designing and building its own retirement villages in both New Zealand and Australia. That meant the company was able to quickly redeploy workers from its 10 construction sites, offering Lanson and the rest of the construction team a temporary alternative in one of its 36 villages.
“I got a call asking if I wanted to help out at the villages and I said yes, I’d love to be able to help. I wasn’t doing much at home!” laughs Lanson, 23.
With residents advised to remain in their apartments or townhouses and unable to head out to get their own supplies, the number of deliveries to their doors increased exponentially and the village operations teams needed more hands on deck.
Living just down the road from Evelyn Page Retirement Village in Orewa, Lanson offered to pitch in there and found the four weeks just flew by.
“I worked in the kitchen on Sundays and Wednesdays and then the other three days I did deliveries, helping to deliver the groceries and parcels to all the residents and their Happy Hour bags once a week.
“It was real fast paced which made the time go quickly.”
More than two thirds of the nearly 200-strong construction team were in a position to help and consequently jumped at the chance, a response described as ‘humbling’ by Ryman’s NZ Construction Manager, Paul Blackler.
“To see them step up, I’ve been really humbled by their willingness to serve,” said Paul.
“What’s come through strongly is Ryman’s sense of community – that we’re all one team, albeit with different functions.”
Paul said for many in the team it provided a ‘tremendous learning experience’, going from working on the large, complex construction sites to seeing a fully finished and operational village which usually included townhouses, multi-storey apartment blocks and hospital facilities, insight that would ‘pay dividends down the track’.
For others it had been a moving experience.
“It’s been quite emotional for some, to see what has to be done in the villages on a daily basis. It’s pretty special.”
As well as deliveries and the dishes, tasks could include general maintenance and security, to restrict visitors to the village.
Fred Cleaver, Senior Site Manager at Ryman’s Linda Jones village on River Road in Hamilton, rostered 12 of the team to help residents at the operational part of the village next door plus its long-established village on the other side of town, Hilda Ross.
“We’ve all been blown away by the amount of support and care that Head Office has given us,” he said. “And so everyone just jumped on board saying ‘what can we do for the company?’”
For both Fred and Lanson the level of safety required for all tasks was ‘an eyeopener’ but Lanson said the extreme measures taken were essential for protecting the residents and reassuring for his parents, sister and the two foster children who share his bubble.
“There was a lot of sanitising, we wore masks the whole day and kept our 2 metre distance. My family were pleased to hear how safely we were doing things,” he said.
He also enjoyed the response from residents who told him how grateful they were to receive the help.
“They were pleased to see us and told us how happy they were that we were helping.”
Having job security in such unusual times was an incredible relief, he said.
“Before I was at Ryman I was a sub-contractor so I didn’t get holiday pay or anything. I’m really thankful I’m with Ryman and we still have work. And we get our normal wage, not just 80 per cent.”
And with 22 sites in Ryman’s landbank, Lanson is confident he will kept busy for a few years yet!
Regional Operations Manager Lynn Charlton said the help from construction had been ‘invaluable’.
“It would have been overwhelming with having to man security and all the additional deliveries so we really thank them for coming to our rescue.
“It’s good to know the wider Ryman family is all doing their part.”
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