Reclaimed wood, Indian doors and garden ornaments are all part of Barry Leadbetter's past. Summers spending time with old friends and enjoying a slower pace of life are what lies ahead for Barry and partner Annette.
The award-winning humanitarian and former United Nations negotiator has recently sold Barron Imports, a well-loved and unique Hawke's Bay based furniture and giftware store. Barrons support ethical and sustainable trade, with all wood and timber products in the store made from recycled materials. And although the couple won't be quite sitting back and putting their feet up, they are looking forward to retirement.
"Once we are able to travel freely again, we will be going and spending time with the many friends that we have made overseas. Hawke's Bay will always be our home, as most of our family are here, but we miss our Thai and Indian families too," Barry says.
Over the years as a negotiator, Barry also did a lot of humanitarian work and says with more time on their hands, they would like to be able to continue doing it.
"We love our Hawke's Bay summers, not so the winters, so once it starts cooling down we hope to be able to go and see our friends."
Around 45 years ago Barry worked for the United Nations as a negotiator, working in many places but mainly in India,Thailand and Myanmar. While he was there, he saw the wood working skills of the village people and helped them set up small factories making furniture out of the wood they dredged up out of rivers.
"At the time, I owned the Havelock North Garden Centre and started bringing in some of the furniture for that. I wanted something that was different to everyone else."
He eventually sold the garden centre and set up Barron Imports. He says his business began out of a need he felt to support suppressed nomadic hill tribes in Myanmar and northern Thailand to become settled and self-sufficient. He has worked tirelessly in this area and is recognised as having made a difference to hundreds of lives. For his work he has received the Freedom of Thailand award, presented by the King of Thailand "for his humanitarian contribution to the people of Mae Hon Song district". Barry has also received recognition from the United Nations three times for his humanitarian work in Myanmar, Thailand and India, and was nominated for Senior New Zealander of the Year and Local Hero awards in 2011.
Although the business has been on State Highway 51 between Napier and Hastings for more than 20 years, Barry says they battled the council a few years ago because it wanted to close them down, as their warehouse is on rural land.
"We worked with them and in the end we were able to stay here, but in the meantime we had opened a store in Ahuriri, so decided to keep both places open. After five years and a change of landlord, we closed Ahuriri and just kept operating from our warehouse."
He says over the years their stock has changed and they now have a wide range of vintage and reclaimed wood indoor and outdoor furniture. They also stock a large range of pots, gates, old Indian doors and windows and garden ornaments.
In the New Year, the new owners are moving Barron Imports to Tauranga, leaving a few lines they don't want to take, Barry says.
"Those will remain here and our son-in-law Willy will be managing them for us. They are the Buddha range, copper weathervanes, brass hardware and the taxidermy. We will be reopening our warehouse in February, at reduced hours, with those lines. We would like to thank our many loyal customers, some who have been with us for many years and have now ended up as friends."