The Claud Switzer Memorial Trust has long aspired to adopt solar power at its rest home in South Rd Kaitaia, for both environmental and practical reasons.
The complex, home to 92 residents, including hospital and dementia patients, has extensive roof areas facing east and north, but the problem has always been cost.
"Owing to the need to purchase properties adjacent to the home as they became available, for the development of a residential village for our community, the funds for the solar project were not available," board chairman Peter Dryburgh said.
That had changed last year, however, when a 'living donation' was made to the trust for that specific purpose.
"This was apparently inspired by a radio interview, perhaps on 'Country Life,' with a couple from a small community in the South Island who decided to make a substantial donation during their later lives to enable the establishment of a much needed health centre," Dryburgh said.
"They felt this would allow them to see, and participate in, the results of their donation, apart from meeting the need much earlier than would have been the case had the bequest come through their joint wills."
Meanwhile, some of the Switzer trustees had had solar generation installed by an Auckland company, Lightforce Solar, and had been impressed by the reliability and quality of the work done. The trust duly requested a "charitable quote," making it clear the home had been made possible by community and other charitable donations, fundraising and good financial management, and that it was owned by the "true" Far North community it served.
"The company was pleasingly understanding, and proved to be committed to these social values," he said. "Dick Hubbard, of Hubbard Foods, used to advocate that the success of a company needed to be judged not only by financial performance but by the 'triple bottom line' — financial, social and environmental. We are increasingly seeing in our country good companies embracing this philosophy, and Lightforce proved to be one of these."
Some 315 solar panels had now been installed at the home, along with the technology needed to export any excess electricity to the national grid. Heating would be provided the distribution of hot water through a network of pipes, yet to be funded, from an electrically-driven boiler.
Apart from the positive environmental factors, the trust estimated the home's power bill would reduce by $6000 to $11,000 a month, depending on the time of year — savings that could be put to good use elsewhere.
In 2009, a retired engineer had generously bequeathed his home at Mangonui to the trust, proceeds of its sale enabling the board to develop the Donald Le Comte Energy Centre, which housed a diesel-powered generator that supplied electricity to the home in the event of a power failure.
"Our elderly are vulnerable, of course, and power at all times is essential," Dryburgh said.
"The energy centre is raised, giving protection in the event of flooding, and also provides an alternative water supply from the trust's bore.
"With these developments, our community can feel both proud and secure in terms of our aged care. We shall soon be developing an additional wing of 22 hospital beds to meet the increasing need. We are acutely aware of the waiting list at times, and the sad situations that can arise when patients have to be accommodated elsewhere, away from family and friends.
"We are also moving towards our goal of establishing a residential village, with units available for both rent and sale. This will be in keeping with the needs of our community, and will mean that downsizing may not require people to move out of our area.
"We, as trustees, thank our community and charitable trusts for their past and continuing support. We continue to move forward with optimism in these often difficult times.
"We try to remember, 'Kia kaha, haere tonu, kia manawanui,' words of wisdom indeed."