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.
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.