Healthy, happy, homely

How John Thomson is making a big impact on families in Dunedin, one home at a time.

As a home performance assessor with Habitat for Humanity’s healthy homes programme in Dunedin, John Thomson’s work has already made a mark on the families he’s worked with.

Kia Haumaru te Kaika is a joint partnership between Habitat, Southern DHB and Aukaha which aims to reduce the number of children admitted to hospital for housing-related respiratory illnesses.

Over the past year, around 20 families have benefited from John’s generosity and hands-on expertise. Even though John brings some heavy-duty know-how, he’s noticed that even small things like installing new curtains can give a family a deserving lift.

“More than anything, it’s hugely satisfying knowing these families are going to be warmer and healthier due to the measures we put in place as part of healthy homes.”

An active retiree with a lifetime of DIY skills under his toolbelt, John approached Habitat for Humanity two years ago about volunteering opportunities.

“I was asked whether I would consider training to be a home performance assessor for the new healthy homes programme. I had no idea about what the initiative was or what the role would involve, but I’m always up for a new challenge so I said yes!”

John completed two courses on home performance assessment. Now, a year into the role, he’s worked with a range of whānau in need who have been referred to the Habitat’s healthy homes programme. With help from proud partner AMI, Habitat for Humanity is aiming to transform the lives of 75,000 Kiwis over the next three years through providing warm, dry housing.

“Referrals to Habitat are aimed at children up to the age of 14 who are admitted to hospital with conditions that may be linked to their living environment,” says John.

“Generally, these children have respiratory conditions or allergies which may be caused by poor insulation, draughts or mould. With the combination of old housing stock and cold winters, Dunedin has a lot of homes that present these types of problems.”

The free service involves an initial 90-minute assessment visit, which is followed up by a wide variety of tasks that are critical to a healthy home. This includes installing heaters, door sweeps, extractor fans and curtains.

In addition to providing material items, John also applies his expertise in the form of support and education.

“It’s common for bedrooms not to have heaters, so we educate on the importance of keeping bedrooms warm at night. Also, educating about the need to get rid of moisture in the house which can be achieved, in some instances, by opening up windows and doors for 30 minutes during the warmest part of the day,” says John.

Following a full career as a teacher, John says he’s found an immense joy in the “simple things” – and also the feedback he’s received.

“I’ve been told I’m doing things around a home that have never been done before such as clearing gutters, which stops water pooling on the ground or seeping under the house, or just showing how to clean filters on a heat pump.

“It can be these really simple things that make a difference to people’s lives.”

And long may it continue: later this year, Habitat hopes to expand the programme to include Central Otago and Invercargill, and keep making positive impacts on families, their homes and their communities.