It was a scene straight out of a home renovation show at Mike and Elaine Sullivan's home in Picton this morning complete with all the emotion that goes with a life changing gift.

Mike and Elaine returned to their home after visiting their daughter Roanna Sullivan in Perth to find a huge amount of renovation work having been secretly done to their house.

"Thank you so much, it's stunning, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. I had better stop now," said Mike before emotion got the better if him.

Elaine Sullivan is stunned by the transformation of her home while Joseph Sullivan greets his father Mike
Elaine Sullivan is stunned by the transformation of her home while Joseph Sullivan greets his father Mike

Elaine was equally stunned by the transformation of their home over the past three weeks.

"We are very humbled by so many people being so kind to us, this is just amazing," said Elaine.

Joseph and his brother Brayden proudly showed their parents around the house, explaining what work had been done and who had been involved.

Work had gone in well into the night last night and was picked up again this morning, but all the hard graft was well worth the effort.

"I got off the ferry at 1am and came to the house to stain the sills. It's really great to get it finished," said Joseph, who had driven down from Auckland where he spent Christmas with his girlfriend Holly Ross and her family.

Brayden had been working the night before. "We probably finished up at about 10pm last night with the last few jobs like the last bit of painting and fixing up small things like the wall paper," said Brayden.

The family said that they were blown away by how Marlborough businesses and tradespeople had gotten behind the project.  

"Cheers to Marlborough, thank you Marlborough," said Joseph.

Builder, Lawrence Pope was one of those who gave up time from Boxing Day to complete final pieces of work. "I finished at about 6.30pm. I never doubted we would finish - I enjoy the pressure."



Olympic gold medallist Joseph Sullivan is hoping he has pulled off the best kept secret in Picton.

Arriving back at their Picton home today will bring one of the biggest surprises of Elaine and Mike Sullivan's lives.

The parents of Olympic gold medal rower Joseph Sullivan have been in Perth visiting their daughter, Roanna Sullivan, and their new granddaughter, Emma, since December 8, and will arrive home to find major renovations and improvements done to their house, courtesy of numerous Marlborough businesses and tradesmen.

The estimated total value of work, supplies and merchandise is about $70,000.

"I can't wait to show them the house and all the work that has been done," Joseph Sullivan said this week.

"To be honest I'm a bit worried because they are really going to freak out."

Two months ago, while travelling back from a rowing regatta in Auckland, Joseph began to think of ways to repay his parents for their years of support, which saw them pour all the spare finance they could into his career.

The rise to the level of elite athlete takes a massive amount of work on the part of the individual but also requires staunch support and, in Joseph's case, most of that came from Mike and Elaine.

Marlborough Express sports reporter John Alexander says that, until four years ago, Joseph's sponsorship ranged from none to very limited.

So his parents were always there.

"Instead of buying new cars or doing work on their house or going on holidays, his parents would put their money into his career."

John has close ties to the Olympic athlete, having reported on his career from his novice rowing days at Picton and Queen Charlotte College through to his Olympic triumph in London.

Joseph approached John for help with an initial plan that involved working on the roof and driveway of his parent's home while they were away for a couple of weeks before Christmas.

"I contacted John because he has good contacts, and hoped he could get me in touch with people who could help me make it happen," Joseph said.

"I planned to do most of the work myself and maybe get some good deals on materials. I never expected things to grow like they have - I've just been blown away by it all."

In just a few days, John teamed up with Wairau Rowing Club coach Dave Williamson and contacted businesses and tradesmen throughout Marlborough who were only too eager to help with the project.

As a result, the list of work quickly grew to something resembling a full home makeover.

"The support has just been incredible," Dave said.

"We started with a small list of things like the roof, driveway and restoring Mike's vintage Chev and jet boat, and it has just grown, with people offering to do extra work or suggesting other things.

"There was no hesitation when we asked people to get on board."

Typical of the approach is APH (Andrew Pope Homes), which offered builder Lawrence Pope's services free for two days.

But then Lawrence took it upon himself to see the project through, working tirelessly with plumber Cliff Bowers after his regular work hours, right up until yesterday, to make sure the job was finished properly. He was like a site foreman.

As well as the roof being repainted and guttering replaced, Mike and Elaine will come home to new carpet in two rooms, new blinds, a new stove in the kitchen, some new indoor and outdoor furniture, new bathrooms, new king bed and bedding, new double bed and bedding, new BBQ and extra insulation in the roof.

The driveway is set to be replaced early next year.

But the list doesn't end there.

The main bathroom has been completely redone, as has the ensuite, including new showers, vanities and toilets.

The entire brick house has been plastered, courtesy of Joseph's brother Brayden, a plasterer. The outside has also been painted, along with the majority of the inside walls.

And a small deck has been built to enhance the garden, where an irrigation system has been installed.

Mike and Elaine will be able to enjoy lounging in two leather Lazy Boy chairs, supplied by Furniture to Go in Blenheim, which also gave a king Sleepy Head bed through Beds R Us and an oak extension dining room table and chair - at a total value of $10,000.

Furniture to Go owner Rob Bruce said he couldn't have done it without his suppliers - Lazy Boy, Coastwood Furniture and Sleepyhead - also supporting the project.

Being involved in the project was a "no brainer" for him, and he was only too happy to do the best possible for the Sullivans.

Work has even been extended beyond the house, with John Diamanti restoring the family jet boat to working order.

"John's son Brendon played cricket for the Black Caps, and also represented New Zealand in indoor cricket, so he knows what it means to support a child in their sporting career," John Alexander said.

At the same time Dick Mol, of One Stop Brake and Auto in Blenheim and Inter-Island ferry engineer Colin Marsden, have brought Mike's 1955 Chevrolet up to running condition.

Work has had to be fast and furious, with a continuous flow of tradesmen and supplies to the home during the two weeks before Christmas.

When the Express visited Joseph on Thursday last week, the home still looked like a building site but Joseph was confident of being finished by Saturday.

And it happened, albeit with just hours to spare in true reality-show makeover style.

The bulk of the project was completed by Christmas Eve, with just the general tidying up and grooming before Elaine and Mike arrive home today.

Joseph, John and Dave say they have been hugely impressed by the tradesmen's offers to do all the work for free, particularly during the busiest time of the year and on relatively short notice.

Cliff Bowers Plumbing and Gas owner Cliff Bowers says it had been "pretty last-minute stuff" but they managed to get it all done.

Laser Electrical Picton owner Wally Horncastle agreed that the timing made getting the work done tricky, with most tradesmen frantically trying to finish outstanding work before Christmas but he was only too happy to put in the extra effort.

"This project is great for Joseph's parents and for him," Wally said.

John Alexander said the co-operation from the tradesman had been outstanding.

"With Dave and me having little knowledge of managing building projects, the boys have basically run and co-ordinated that side of the project between them.

"Lawrence, Cliff and Wally have given so much of their time and energies and I'm sure their families are cursing Dave and me for getting them involved.

"The level of their support has blown me away."

In some cases, offers had been unexpected, such as when Pink Fit owner Bruce Palmer went to the house to help move the jet boat. He inspected the roofing insulation and said it needed replacing. He then offered to do the job.

Having no particular trade skill hasn't stopped Joseph from getting involved, doing whatever job he is given and working late at night.

His rowing training has all but ceased but he has had to fit various commitments into the schedule, such as flying to Auckland to appear on TVNZ's Breakfast show on Friday before heading home and continuing to put in some graft at the house.

"It's an amazing feeling to be able to do this for my parents," he says. "They have done so much for me. I just can't get over how everyone has come on board and supported me in this. It's just unbelievable."

Blenheim flooring company Floor Pride put new carpets in the dining and sun rooms and replaced the vinyl in the laundry and en-suite bathroom.

Company director Fiona Mark said her family had a strong connection to the rowing fraternity, with both her daughter and son involved in the sport.

Their father, Glynn Davies, had also represented New Zealand in the sport.

"I've enjoyed seeing Joseph progress over the years and it's great to see him get to where he is now," she said.

Assistance has come from businesses big and small, from one-man operations to large corporation Bunnings Warehouse. Blenheim manager Callum Anderson said they were inspired by how Joseph wanted to repay his parents for their support.

"It is a real mark of the man. He is a real inspiration to the community," Callum said.

The store gave building materials, outdoor furniture and a BBQ.

Joseph, John and Dave agree that seeing Elaine and Mike's reactions will be the best Christmas present they could hope for.

"It's the most satisfying project I've ever been involved in and everyone involved should be extremely proud of what they have achieved for two very special Picton parents," John said.



A BIG thank-you to these people involved in the Sullivan project, and we apologise if we have left anyone out.

They are: John Alexander, Callum Anderson, Sue Beattie, Robin Beattie, Marty Bruce, Rob Bruce, Dave Bugler, Bill Campbell, Norm Crafar, Warren Croft, John Diamanti, Kirsten Disse, Fred Gaudin, Keiran Gaudin, Raylene Gaudin, Ryan Gaudin, Lionel Graham, Duncan Grant, Keith Hamblin, Rob Hellstrom, Maureen Henderson-MacEacharn, Gordon Herkt, Mark Hodren, Wally Horncastle, David James, Les Jones, Beryl Karena, Daniel Karena, Andy Kenny, Johnny MacDonald, Marie MacDonald, Mitchell Mackenzie-Mol, Tim McCaffrey, Fiona Mark, Rosanne Marsden, Colin Marsden, Errol Miller, Dick Mol, Grant Morgan, Susan O'Rourke, Bruce Palmer, Lawrence Pope, Kelvin Price, Brent Richards, George Riwaka, Graeme Rose, Holly Ross, Allan Scott, Josh Scott, Ian Seymour, Anna Sim, Casey Smit, Peter Souter, Brayden Sullivan, John Sullivan, Joseph Sullivan, Polly Taylor, Gary Timms, Shirley Timms, Dave Wells, Dave Williamson.

Also a big thanks to the companies and businesses that have have contributed.

They are: Allan Scott Wines, APH (Andrew Pope ) Homes, Bowers Plumbing, Gasfitting, Drainlaying, Bunnings, Classic Hits Marlborough, Crafar Crouch Construction Ltd, Fairweathers, Floor Pride, Fresh Choice Picton, Furniture 2 Go, George Riwaka Plasterer and Gibstopper, Hawkesbury Road Clothing, Herkt Appliances, Hirepool, John Diamanti (Harcourts Real Estate), KKG Roofing, Laser Electrical Picton, Lion Breweries, Marlborough Express, Meaters of Marlborough Ltd, Moa Brewing Company Ltd, One Stop Brake and Auto, Picton Building Centre, Picton Hammer Hardware, Pinkfit (Bruce Palmer), Pink Batts, Plumbing World, Roofline Marlborough, Scaffold Marlborough, United Video, Well Done Home and Garden Rescue, WestMeat Blenheim, Willie Smith Tow and Salvage Marlborough.



The Marlborough Express