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No Place Like Home: Couple’s ‘survivor guilt’ of fleeing UK for New Zealand during pandemic

From an upstairs flat in Coventry to a sprawling rural lifestyle idyll in Wairarapa, a few British expats know where they’d rather be.

As healthcare professionals, Alison Payne and Richard Le Mare experienced the “coalface” of the Covid-19 pandemic on both sides of the world and made the heartbreaking decision to leave their families to make it in Nova Scotia. Zeeland.

It was their second time here, having lived in Mana from 1994 to 2007 when Payne worked as a general practitioner in Kāpiti and Le Mere was a radiographer in Wellington.

Le Mere said the UK was a ‘mess’ when they left for good for the second time in December 2020.

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“Working in the Covid environment in the UK I found really, really difficult. As a radiologist, you are as front-line as possible.

“I was scared and anxious all day.”

Now he only wears PPE to feed the alpacas on their 8-hectare off-grid property 19 kilometers south of Martinborough.

Alison Payne and Richard Le Mare have been at the heart of the pandemic in the UK and were happy to be back in New Zealand after 13 years.

Mark Tantrum Photography / Stuff

Alison Payne and Richard Le Mare have been at the heart of the pandemic in the UK and were happy to be back in New Zealand after 13 years.

“Because they spit and it’s horrible,” he said.

“I’m a city boy, and we ended up not knowing what to do, but we’re trying our best and having fun.”

Le Mere said New Zealand appeared to have become complacent in the fight against Covid after a great initial response.

He thought the country had generally fared well, but was disappointed by the “complete lack of compassion” in border policies.

“New Zealand got off to such a great start… but they seem to have slowed down in the race. It’s almost as if after being in the lead for a long time we are falling behind.

He said he missed his group of friends in England, but made lots of new ones here.

“As a newbie to the valley, I was very happy to have been able to come and help with local things and meet people through it.”

Payne agreed Britain was “a complete mess” at the height of the pandemic with a lack of strategy and planning.

Alison Payne and Richard Le Mare returned to New Zealand at the height of the pandemic in the UK.

Mark Tantrum Photography / Stuff

Alison Payne and Richard Le Mare returned to New Zealand at the height of the pandemic in the UK.

“People were dropping like flies.”

They still had family in the UK, and it was with the encouragement of his elderly mother that they decided to return to New Zealand 18 months ago.

They returned nine months into the pandemic and, being New Zealand citizens, they were allowed to return.

Now happily settled on their rural property in Wairarapa, they enjoyed the contrast to what they left behind.

“I can’t believe how lucky we are to be here after living in a flat in Coventry for 13 years. I look at this and wonder how did we manage to find ourselves in this?

“We have a foot in both camps. I have two passports, two houses, but I know where I’d rather be.

Payne said she felt conflicted about returning and escaping the chaos halfway around the world.

“I feel so lucky to be here, but I kind of feel like I’ve retired. The world is in shambles and I’m in my little bunker.

Her father died a few years ago but her mother remains in Coventry. Payne felt a little guilty for not being around in his later years, but they stayed in constant contact.

She works part-time as a general practitioner in Martinborough.

“I don’t have to work. I have my NHS pension now. I work because they need a doctor here and because I like this job.

The couple met 27 years ago “through the back pages of Private Eye”.

“One of the first things I said to Rich was that there are two things you need to know about me; ‘One, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in England, and the other, I don’t want children”.

Now they have a variety of livestock that are so much part of the family that lambs often roam the house.

When borders recently eased, Payne made a trip home to support her mother through a medical procedure.

She said it was surreal to be back, but she seemed to be fitting into the community quite easily despite many of her friends contracting Covid while she was there.