Year-round ‘blossoming’ the highlight for departing Bryant Retreat Manager

Bryant Retreat’s well-kept gardens may look like a picture this time of year but it’s the “blossoming” of most of the women referred there that has given the facility’s retiring manager most satisfaction over the past two decades.

Although to passers-by the Cliff Street retreat may appear to be nothing more than a largish if fairly conservative brick home, for many Waikato women over the years it’s become a haven where very personal transformations take place.

Seeing that happen has been the most rewarding part of the job, Barbara Brown told the Chronicle last week as she prepared to vacate the manager’s position she’s held for eight years.

Most women “blossom” during their 11-day respites arranged by their GP, she says.

Barbara’s worked 20 years all up at Bryant Retreat, having started as “first assistant” well before taking on the manager’s role.

“It’s been a lovely place to work … a peaceful place to be,” she says.  “Although it can get very noisy too,” she adds, once women get talking and laughing together on their way to wellness.

But it’s time for a change, and she’s looking forward now to enjoying with her husband what Raglan has to offer outside of work.

The therapeutic nature of the retreat and its picturesque harbourside location are part of what’s drawn new manager Robyn Riddle away from her job as a Hamilton social worker, and she’s looking to moving with her husband Charles to Raglan.

“It’s a dream come true,” says the 58 year old who’s longed to live here and was in charge this week after a fortnight’s crossover with Barbara.

Robyn admits she’s had her eye on the job for a while. “I’ve walked past the retreat for years, I love the look of the place, I knew about it and I’ve referred people to it (through social work),” she explains.

She’s in awe of the rapport between the six staff members – all local women – who she says have an “amazing ability to work together”. She’s also impressed by the facility itself which to her knowledge is the only retreat of its kind to provide such care for free.

Fully funded by the Hamilton-based DV Bryant Trust, the now 51-year-old retreat houses six women at a time specifically to provide rest and relaxation from stressful situations like depression, anxiety, exhaustion, grief, illness and burnout – or, as Robyn explains, from “something that’s worn them down”.

The women – aged through from their 20s to their 80s – are nurtured with three freshly prepared meals each day and are free to take time out for themselves or spend it with others staying there.

It’s a facility to be used by both local women and those further afield – from as far north as Meremere and as far south as Taupo.  Robyn sees it as “one of the two jewels in the Waikato”, the other being Waikato Hospital’s Mothercraft unit for mothers and babies.

Robyn’s keen to maintain the retreat’s tranquillity and privacy, but to perhaps also have a couple of bicycles or kayaks on hand to encourage the balance of physical and emotional wellbeing.  There’s no structured programme, as such, and no counselling – only the informal kind of group therapy that comes with like-minded women living together awhile.

The retreat’s history goes back much further than 51 years: all the way in fact to the early 1930s when women stayed during the winter months at the then Bryant Home for Convalescent Children – now Camp Raglan on Wainui Road overlooking Ngarunui Beach.

Later a house for women was bought by the trust next to the Bryant family bach in Cliff Street, and then the purpose-built redbrick retreat was opened in 1964.

Recent reviews of the facility and its outcomes in terms of women’s wellbeing have concluded that Bryant Retreat is a valuable resource with long-term health benefits, say Robyn and Barbara.

They see the charitable trust continuing indefinitely the work started by philanthropist DV Bryant who aimed post-war – and perhaps ahead of his time – to “nurture the nurturer”.

Edith Symes

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