From church to gift shop

Re­porter con­tin­ues with the next episode in the Talk­ing to the Con­verted se­ries about in­spi­ra­tional peo­ple mak­ing use of old build­ings. This week, she goes to Ta­panui, to a for­mer church.

Clutha Leader - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE -

Some peo­ple con­vert places, and some peo­ple are con­verted by places.

For Marie Thom­sen and Paul Jes­son, orig­i­nally from Christchurch, that place was the rolling green hills and ru­ral peace of Ta­panui. The West Otago town was their tree-change.

‘‘The earth­quakes definitely prompted us to have a change,’’ Marie said.

Two years ago they took over a de-con­se­crated church in Ta­panui steeped in Blue Moun­tain and New Zealand his­tory that had been turned into a gift shop.

The re­cently mar­ried pair own and run Whitechapel Gifts, housed in the for­mer Angli­can All Saints Church. The church was a big part of the West Otago com­mu­nity from 1878 to 1978.

It was closed as a church in 2006 and was ren­o­vated and set up as a busi­ness in 2009.

De­signed by Ben­jamin Mount­fort, the ar­chi­tect of many of Can­ter­bury’s dis­tinc­tive Gothic re­vival-style build­ings, it is a con­stant work in progress for Marie and Paul.

Un­like many of a sim­i­lar Mount­fort era, such as the nowre­stored Christchurch Arts Cen­tre and Can­ter­bury Provin­cial Coun­cil build­ings, it is not made of stone but tim­ber, and has a tin roof. The high rib-vault ceil­ings can be­come a rook­ery for Ta­panui’s winged pop­u­la­tion.

‘‘Birds can take over,’’ Marie said.

‘‘The star­lings love it,’’ Paul laughed.

They con­fess to hav­ing a sneak­ing af­fec­tion for the birdlife that sneaks in between cracks and holes, but it is a bat­tle keep­ing them out.

They’re work­ing on re­fur­bish­ing the build­ing’s south side ex­te­rior, which also cops most of the weather.

It’s a big change from their life in Christchurch. Marie, who is from Den­mark orig­i­nally and came to New Zealand in 2002, worked for a med­i­cal in­surance com­pany, and Paul, who was born in Christchurch, is a qual­i­fied mas­sage ther­a­pist and car­pen­ter.

This in­cred­i­bly mod­est man was ac­tu­ally the 1976 New Zealand Cy­clist of the Year.

He has rel­a­tives in the area, so knew the area well, and has rid­den the Tour of South­land four times - and won it twice.

He had a pro-con­tract with a top team in Europe, and took the start at the 1979 Tour de France, but was elim­i­nated. He com­peted in the 1980 Vuelta (Tour of Spain), where he won the stage to San­tander.

Hor­rif­i­cally, dur­ing fi­nal prepa­ra­tions for the 1980 Tour de France, he crashed into a parked car, and what should have been a rou­tine in­ves­ti­ga­tion and then surgery, re­sulted in the aboveknee am­pu­ta­tion of his left leg.

He even­tu­ally re­turned to New Zealand and be­came a paraO­lympian cy­clist. He won the 1998 worlds in the pur­suit and in­di­vid­ual time trial and fin­ished fourth at Sydney in 2000, and got a bronze in Athens in 2004, from his plac­ings in the road road race and time trial.

He has a fancy bat­tery­op­er­ated ‘‘bionic’’ pros­thetic leg with pow­ered joints that he has to charge-up overnight, which means he can do nor­mal things like gar­den, mow the lawn and climb lad­ders.

Their ex-church and ex­ten­sive grounds present chal­lenges to this gra­cious cou­ple, that they’re tak­ing in their stride.

They enjoy show­ing their place to peo­ple. ’’Vis­i­tors often have a his­tory here,’’ Marie said.


The for­mer All Saints Church at Ta­panui, owned by Marie Thom­sen and Paul Jes­son, en­joy­ing the sun.


Birds, real and crafted, are ev­er­p­re­sent at Marie and Paul’s con­verted church at Ta­panui.


Marie Thom­sen and Paul Jes­son in their con­verted church, now Whitechapel Gifts at Ta­panui.

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