Colleen and Graeme Dunn were hardly alone in experiencing a deep sense of loss, even grief, when they thought they could no longer go on the campervan tours they loved so much.

But the couple, formerly of Kaitaia, now Whangarei, told a seminar in Whangarei last week that their despair was unwarranted.

"Colleen needing home dialysis was a real curve ball for us, and we started thinking that we would need to sell the campervan and sit and wait for God," Graeme said.

"But actually the campervan has been our saviour. I built a trailer for all the peritoneal dialysis equipment we need to take with us and off we went to the South Island for two months.


"Being mobile means we can be independent, but still visit family and friends when we want to."

Networking and social isolation were two of the key topics at the first Contact Energy Renal Fund patient and support people seminar. Renal social worker Nicolette Crump said Contact Energy's offer to provide something for people on home-based dialysis had been very welcome.

"We were so delighted, because this is a group that never has the opportunity to come together," she said.

The Contact Energy Renal Fund was established as a result of discussions with the Northland District Health Board around the most effective way to support the renal unit. Contact's head of environment, sustainability and community, Tina Porou, said that rather than buying new equipment for the renal unit, it was decided to put equivalent funds into an endowment to support home-based dialysis.

Guest speakers included representatives from the Kidney Society and Civil Defence, while the subject of holidays was also on the agenda. While it was acknowledged that life changes dramatically when people start on home dialysis, it was also stressed that it was equally important to have a break from the routine, reconnect with family and friends and have fun, as Colleen and Graeme Dunn had done.

"Contact Energy, this money has been well invested," one of the participants said.

"It has meant that we could get out of our homes and connect with like-minded people, make new friends. Today has been great."

The company gifted $25,000 to establish the fund in 2009. Managed by the Northland Community Fund, it has since grown to more than $33,000, and is now available to recipients in the form of a financial hardship fund, at the discretion of the Northland DHB social workers via referral and to host seminars for patients and their support people.