The Best Neighbours Under the Sun

Residential care homes sometimes come up against the NIMBY (not in my back yard) mentality, but the staff of a Māori-based facility in Hamilton enjoy a special and mutually beneficial relationship with their neighbour.

Marree Keepa

I’m the kaiarataki (leader) here at Whare Te Rangimarie, a residential house for ladies with intellectual disabilities and mental health issues. Lyn has been our neighbour since I’ve been in the service 15 years, and she’s always been there as a support person for us. She’s familiar with our ladies and accepting of their behaviours – the yelling, cursing and other noises.

Lyn and Marree with their knitting

Lyn is just the sort of neighbour everyone wants to have, we feel very lucky. She’s wonderful in that she knits for our clients – well, for all of us – all our winter socks. She also bakes and makes us pickles, she’s very industrious and it’s not just us who benefits, she’s very generous in the community too. Even Lyn’s grandchildren are involved: they bake muffins for our ladies at Christmas and collect shells for our gardens when they go on holiday.

Te Roopu Taurima is the only Māori-based company for this type of care in the country so we particularly follow Māoritanga and mainly have Māori clients and staff. All our ladies are pretty close to Lyn but none more so than Denise, who shares Lyn’s passion for knitting. For Denise, knitting is her therapy, but she doesn’t knit anything in particular, usually just lengths, maybe 10 inches, and then at the end of the day, Lyn sews it all together for her into arts and crafts; blankets, cushions or wall hangings.

We see Lyn at least four times a week, if not every day. She’ll pop over, bring a cake or a bottle of home-made pickles. She has such great empathy towards our ladies and their needs. Aside from those working in this type of service, not many people have that. Our ladies are long-term residents, now in their 50s, and it’s lovely for them to have that constancy with a long-term neighbour who has become a friend. It gives them contact with the community, rather than just staff who are employed to look after them. Of course, this sort of relationship works both ways. We’ve evolved into a kind of neighbourhood watch team; we look out for Lyn and when she goes away we watch her house and water her garden. It’s good that we can return her kindness.

Lyn Bassett

The relationship I have with Marree and her staff is very good because I’m a widow, I’m elderly (77) and the whole situation over there is very caring, not only to the residents but also to me. They’re aware I’m on my own and so we have little safety signals, so for example, if my curtains are not open in the morning by a reasonable time, they will come over to investigate. It’s an important safety net for me. I was the first to build a house in this half of the street, coming up to probably 20 years ago, yet I don’t know anybody except my next door neighbours; communities are gone.

When you live on your own you just want a bit of a chat sometimes. I can walk across there and we’ll have a cup of coffee. If I’ve got some surplus fruit I can make a loaf and take it over. We have a laugh. The clients are all lovely, they just need time and patience, love and a cuddle. I tell my grandchildren, “You could become like this, you could fall off your bike, hit your head and you’d want to be treated nicely.”

Lyn and Denise with their knitting

I do have a special connection with Denise because knitting is our happy place. She just basically does garter stitch, knits for a while and then pulls it apart. Marree will rescue bits and pieces and I think of ways to put it together or frame it. Denise is always happy with the results, she loves to be the centre of attention. And another one of the ladies, every time I go in there: “Lyn, I need some socks.” So you knit them some socks and some hats and some scarfs

Marree is a very kind and compassionate lady. She cares about her staff and they are all so dedicated to their ladies. My husband passed away in 2001 and if I didn’t have them, I probably wouldn’t talk to anybody for days on end. Ever since they moved in, I’ve loved it. They’re the best neighbours under the sun.