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Family . . . Isabelle, Penny, Geoff, Jan and Imogen Keeling on the farm. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

When something is going on in the Duntroon community, chances are Jan Keeling will be involved somewhere.

The hours Mrs Keeling spends volunteering each week are almost equivalent to a full-time job.

She was a key instigator in setting up the village wetlands and the community garden. She is helping to resurrect and maintain the community hall, keep Nicol’s Blacksmith operational, and help other community groups to secure funding.

She also has a strong desire to bring the community together.

Mrs Keeling was born in Duntroon, the eldest daughter of Liza and Eion Rutherford. She grew up on the family farm, Lundie Braes, which was originally bought by her great-grandfather in the early 1900s.

Her parents were among the first in the district to convert to dairy in 1991. She was working in her first job as a radiographer in Marlborough when the first milking took place.

“I had no plans for being a dairy farmer at that point.

“I loved working with people in a hospital.”

On a brief trip home during her OE, Mrs Keeling met future husband Geoff, and when she moved back to New Zealand permanently, they ended up on a farm near Christchurch.

She left radiography when eldest daughter Isabelle was born in 2001, and the young family moved back to Lundie Braes as sharemilkers for the 2002 dairy season.

Second daughter Penny was born in 2003, and Imogen in 2004.

As they got older and went to boarding school, Mrs Keeling found herself with much needed time on her hands.

“We were all burnt out, as a family, completely.

“We had a fatality on the farm when the children were very little, and you never recover from that. It was not something that we could have prevented, but that knocks you for six, and you never recover.

“In a sense, we sort of just survived, and got busy to survive.”

When she felt ready to look for something else to occupy her time, the Keelings decided working off-farm was not going to tick many boxes because it took Mrs Keeling away from things that still needed doing at home.

“So creating volunteer work for myself, literally creating these jobs, finding stuff that needed doing, and then doing it, in my own time and on my own terms worked best.

“And I am able to be there on the farm when I’m needed, and help out.”

Her work with Nicol’s Blacksmith was about finding ways of increasing revenue, and allowing people to judge for themselves how much the experience was worth.

At the weekends, there was always a volunteer to greet and explain the workings of the blacksmith to the visitors, while another volunteer operated the forge, and increased the face-to-face contact with visitors.

Mrs Keeling was also asked to help on the hall committee as secretary.

“Nothing was getting done because the other committee members were equally as busy and working, with zero time, and I could see that things were potentially going to fall into disrepair unless more time was spent on managing it.

“So I called for a meeting and got some more people on the committee and did a bit of remedial R and M and spent some money and then started working on getting some funding and purchase things that were going to help make it sustainable.”

Community spirit . . . Jan Keeling walks through the Duntroon Community Garden, which she helped set up. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

Rent on the hall stayed the same, but a more user-pays system was adopted, such as a coinbox to operate the heatpump.

enough money on hall rental, and we wanted again, to keep it cheap, so it was used.

Hall use has gone up, although Covid put pressure on that.

“But … we’ve got it in a state where it is a nice place. It’s not a glamorous new venue, but it has certainly got the traditional feel about it.”

The hall has also been the venue for five community meals, all been deemed a success.

“Each time it’s been a different group of people come.

“We’ll probably hold another one July, before calving starts, and then another Christmas one. I’ll try and hold three a year.

“It’s pot luck. The hardest bit is washing the table cloths.

Reading through old minutes from previous hall committees, she realised that despite all the ways things had changed over the years, the struggles remained the same.

“Getting volunteers and getting money.”

Mrs Keeling’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were on the hall committee, and she wanted to ensure its survival.

She had been researching grants to try to support the various groups who used it, to find money.

There was a women’s choir, which gathered once a week and performed for free, and also a women’s fitness class, held in the hall two nights a week.

“If we were charging the going rate for these type of venues, it would mean that it just didn’t happen.

“People running these types of groups don’t have the spare time to look at ways of fundraising.”

Thai cooking classes, with Thai national and now Duntroon local Pat Thongseema, at the hall have had an enthusiastic response.

“And I am working on doing a sort of computer literacy for beginners basically, because there is a need for that.

“I tinker away, and I get ideas, and when I find the right person I hatch a plan, and usually these things come together pretty quickly.”

Once she started applying for grants for the hall, Mrs Keeling also saw funding opportunities for the Duntroon District Development Association, which is another group of volunteers who do “preservation, development and beautification of Duntroon”.

“They’ve created and maintained the wetlands, and they co-ordinate the working bees, co-ordinate the volunteers … There’s numerous things they’ve done.

“I saw some opportunities for funding for them, so they could use the fundraising money as seed funding for projects as opposed to just covering their running costs, which I think is important.”

Mrs Keeling insisted she was just one member of a small team which kept the Duntroon community working together for the good of the community. She said she was privileged to be in the position to be able to volunteer in her community, and she found it incredibly rewarding.

“I think every small community needs drivers, I don’t like the word leaders because it’s a team and we are all on the same level, but some people don’t mind standing up.

“And actually, it’s not me at all. I find it really hard putting [myself] out there, but it is so rewarding, and then when you get a bit of a team behind you, you gain confidence that what you’re doing is for the good of the community.

“But at any point just rein me in.”

As a big reader of books on health and wellbeing, she understands the importance of face to face contact, and volunteering is a way of getting off-farm and achieving that, and also getting other people out of their houses to meet others.

“It’s so rewarding, paying it forward, or giving it back, either or, but also I’m role-modelling for my own kids … they’re hard workers, their whole lives they’ve been doing volunteer work without realising it, through working at the wetlands, or helping out in situations I’ll volunteer them for.

“And they’ll continue on doing it.”