With housing shortages and homelessness a current New Zealand-wide issue, it’s timely to reflect on an excellent example of the Marlborough community working together to make a lasting difference for vulnerable people.
Lots of people will be familiar with the Bethsaida Retirement Village, but not all will know the inspiring story of community endeavour behind its creation.
In 1973 a group of prominent Blenheim citizens set up the Bethsaida Trust, the purpose of which was to establish a Home for the care of the frail and dependent elderly, of either sex, without discrimination as to race, religion or political belief.
Back in the early 1970s there were not many private homes for elderly people, and housing options were limited. The local priest, Father Sloane, was concerned that some elderly were effectively about to become homeless – there was no assistance from the government at the time – and he started the ball rolling within the community to create what would become Bethsaida Home for the Aged.
A Marlborough Express article written while Bethsaida was doing further fundraising after its opening, explained: “Bethsaida is unique among institutions in New Zealand caring for the aged – it provides for the totally dependent and who are not hospital cases. As such it does not qualify in any way for Government subsidy. It is dependent solely on residents’ fees for all it operational costs…”
Our very own Terence Thomas was one of three trustees who along with Father Sloane, took on the responsibility for making the vision a reality. These three trustees and various other volunteers in the community worked tirelessly to secure a location and ongoing funding for the home, which was eventually opened in 1973 in the old Holmdale nurse’s home on Litchfield Street, Blenheim.
Originally housing fifteen residents, the building was rented from the Marlborough Hospital Board for the princely sum of $2.00 per year. In 1988 the other Holmdale Maternity Hospital buildings – which will be familiar to many Marlburians as the place in which they were born, or gave birth – were offered to the Bethsaida Trust, and the rest home was able to expand.
Holmdale was the main maternity hospital in Marlborough for nearly 70 years, from 1918 (when it was purchased from James Bell who had used it as his private residence). Holmdale, in its maternity hospital guise, finally closed on 1 October 1987 and the main building became part of the Bethsaida home.
In 1992 when it was demolished (see photo below) to make way for more housing for the elderly, many Marlburians came for a final look. The history of Holmdale wasn’t entirely lost as many people bought salvaged materials from the building for their own projects and the Blenheim Riverside Railway Society reused timber and other materials for its planned rebuild of the Picton railway station at Brayshaw Park.
While the government does now come to the party assisting elderly people with housing, Bethsaida maintains an essential role in our community being the only rest home in Marlborough to offer units for rental rather than solely for purchase.
Michael Thomas took over from his father and is now a proud trustee of the Bethsaida board. We’re very proud of our grandfather’s and father’s involvement in this great community venture (and our children think it’s great having a street named after their great grandfather!).
All of the images and newspaper cuttings above are used with the kind permission of the Marlborough Historical Society Inc. Marlborough Museum Archives.
Have you discovered this treasure trove of Marlborough history for yourself in the Research Room at the Marlborough Museum next to Brayshaw Park? If you’re interested in your family history, the history of your house, old copies of the Marlborough Express – or just love beautiful old maps and photos – then you’re in for a treat. The staff are very helpful and can find all sorts of goodies hidden away in the multitude of boxes!