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The Fairfield Way – A chat with Catherine Brosnahan

We all know that Fairfield House is a sight to behold. Overlooking Nelson and surrounded by beautiful green trees. The local cicadas know how to put on a show and I get the feeling there’s a much bigger song being played in this neck of the woods.

Catherine is the live in manager these days and passes me a freshly made coffee. You can see her eyes light up as I ask her questions. It seems like only yesterday when Fairfield House was on the short list for demolition and Catherine was there to play a part in protecting what is one of Nelson’s most special gems.

Born in Christchurch, Catherine worked for several years as a teacher in Primary schools in Northland. There followed 3 years of sailing adventures throughout the Pacific. Eager for a change, the next adventure was moving to Nelson guided by fond memories of summer beach holidays and the lure of a weaving course. Catherine relocated here in 1979. Her passion for weaving was reignited when she discovered they had a great team of highly skilled weavers delivering a course in the old Nelson Technical School building, the one with the eagles next  to the Queens Gardens.

Just a few weeks after moving to Nelson she met a local toymaker and fellow activist Alan Stanton, who was camped out on weekends in the very run down Fairfield House to deter locals from taking valuable parts and to halt its imminent demolition. They fell in love and set up home together in Fairfield in February 1980. “It was very romantic and an exciting challenging time”. Catherine smiles as she recalls.

 A group of like-minded individuals formed Friends of Old Fairfield Inc. fondly known as FOOF to support the action to keep Fairfield House and surrounding well treed 7acres for  the people of Nelson. FOOF lobbied the Commissioner of Lands & Survey about preserving the building for community use, after a year of meetings and submissions FOOF was given a 2 year window to “prove they had the perseverance and community support to action their dream” the challenge was accepted. The fundraising began!

Volunteers were busy with the monumental task of fixing up this old building. They even ran an advertisement in the newspaper asking if any items that were “borrowed” from the property be returned with no questions asked. The next day 8 sets of timber French doors were found on the front verandah, over the next year the front door, bay window, as well as the mighty timber bannister from the inside staircase were all returned. This gave FOOF a huge happy boost toward their goals.

Once the word got out, the community got stuck in. One of the many projects the bricks that form the courtyard and surround the House were donated from the old Betts Printing building that was being demolished at the time. Retired bricklayers took young people under their wing, teaching them valuable skills and created the brick masterpiece you see today. This was the kiwi DIY method we all know and love. It was also called “The Fairfield Way” by the many involved.

“Fairfield House has always attracted soulful learners and people who want to make a difference. Something magic happens when you commit to a cause like this. Momentum begins to build and things happen in the most mysterious ways,” says Catherine.

The historic value of a place like this is hard to quantify, and the venue now hosts all sorts of community events including weddings, music, outdoor theatre, life celebrations and  learning experiences for all ages, just to name a few.

Catherine lives upstairs and overseas the smooth running of events and ensuring the place is looking tip top at all times.

Visit the website to see “what’s on”. Or even better, drop in for a visit, you will be really glad you did and become a FOOF to help ensure the future of this Nelson treasure.

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