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The Trailblazers: first businesses in DB

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Looking back to the 1980s, Suveera Sharma discovers which businesses were the first to start up in DB, and proves that behind every great venture there’s a great woman.

While it takes a certain amount of courage to leave your hometown and integrate into a flourishing, well-established community, it takes a special level of pioneering grit to move somewhere and form a community where none yet exists. Many DB residents have done the former, only those who have lived here since the 1980s have done the latter.

Arriving in DB in the very early days, when it was first being built, both Dawnna Wayburne founder of DMR School of Ballet (DMR) and Christine King director of Headland Homes embraced the adventure, finding a way to make a living in their new home, while helping to lay the foundation stones of a new society. They have seen the community grow and prosper, and their businesses (among the first in DB) go from strength to strength.

Likewise, as the longest serving member of staff at Discovery Bay International School (DBIS), Connie Ting has dedicated 36 years to the community and observed the school’s trajectory at first hand.

Starting out

Dawnna moved to DB in 1983, when there were only about 10 families living on the resort. “It was a lovely community where everyone knew everyone,” she remembers fondly. “We moved to Hong Kong from South Africa, so we were looking for something similar here, somewhere with open spaces and serenity. DB seemed to fit the bill perfectly.”

Back then, Dawnna recalls that the only way to reach DB was on a tiny 40-seater ferry that ran to and from Central. “In terms of shopping, we had a small wet market for our daily needs and that was about it,” she says with a smile.

And what of DMR’s origins? “Initially, I taught dance in different schools on Hong Kong Island, but then I decided to start my own business. I opened DMR in 1984 with my friends’ kids as students. DBIS had just moved out of the Discovery Bay Residents Club (DBRC) into its new premises and kindly agreed for us to use their new multi-purpose room for our dance studio.

“From the beginning, I wanted to offer DB-based children, teenagers and adults the opportunity to learn ballet, tap and modern dance, in a professional and enjoyable environment,” Dawnna adds.

Christine, who moved to DB from England in 1986, was also taken by the resort’s rural charm. “We wanted a peaceful place, with green areas for children to run around,” she says. “And we liked the idea of a small community, which DB was at that time.”

Christine got into local real estate in 1989. “This was due largely to my buying a house for investment in Headland Drive without even seeing it, and then renting it out for almost double what it had been before. The agent dealing with the rental was impressed and suggested I should join him in business. We started working together but I kept my own company which was Headland Homes.”

At that time, Christine was the only expat dealing in real estate in DB. “I was in the right place at the right time,” she says simply. “DB was just coming up, so it was a great market to get into. What’s more, the laws for real estate were good and the tenants felt very safe. From the beginning, I was providing a great service to the English-speaking expat community.”

Office manager Connie has been with DBIS since it opened in January 1983, less than a year after the first residents moved into the resort. “At that time the plaza was still under construction, and there were no high rises,” she recalls. “DB was just fields; it was so rural then.”

A Peng Chau resident, Connie was drawn to work at DBIS because of its proximity to her home but also because she already knew Wendy MacCallum and Anne-Marie Naughton, the two teachers setting it up. “We met at the German Swiss International School,” she explains. “I stopped working there when I got married and moved to Peng Chau. A few years later, Miss Naughton called me and said we are opening in DB, and would I join them. I didn’t know DB at the time but I went and had a look and discovered it.

“The first students, Ann and Jean Evans and Edda Hansen, were taught in a room at the DBRC by Miss Naughton [who became principal in 1986] and the then school principal Wendy MacCallum,” Connie adds. “We were just three members of staff; I was the only admin person working there.”

Rapid expansion

Christine too started small, growing Headland Homes out of a flat in DB Plaza, but it wasn’t long before her two eldest children, Scott and Katie, joined her in business. “Years later the two younger ones, Charles and Rachel, joined me – they were babies when Headland Homes was formed,” Christine says. “Scott left many years ago to form his own branded jewellery company, Carat London, but the others are still with me, and even my husband Brian plays his part in the business.

“If you look at the successful companies in Hong Kong; most are run by families, so I took a leaf out of their book and I believe it’s definitely a recipe for success,” she adds.

Ask Christine why Headland Homes continues to play a significant part in the DB property market, and she cites her 30 years of solid experience – and all the personal referrals and recommendations provided by satisfied clients.

“It’s also important to keep things fresh,” Christine adds. “We are in the process of rebranding because after 30 years we feel it’s time for a new look that is more relevant to the DB community.”

If Headland Homes was a success from the get-go, so was DBIS. “We had 17 pupils at the end of the first school year and by August 1983, when we moved into the proper school premises, we had 84,” Connie says. “At the beginning we only went up to Year 3 – kids went to Hong Kong Island for secondary. We now go all the way up to Year 13, with our first batch of A-level students graduating this summer.”

Explaining how her own job has changed over the years, Connie says, “After a while I had one person helping out – consider we didn’t have computers in the early days! Now we have a whole team for accounts, admin and human resources.”

Likewise, DMR has grown exponentially over the years and Dawnna is delighted to see how far her school has come. “From our 10 students when we started, we now have anywhere between 200 to 300 students,” she says. “Our main studio is in DB Plaza, and we also offer classes in Sai Kung, Clearwater Bay and Hang Hau.”

Of DMR’s success, Dawnna says, “Over the years, I’ve recruited highly talented and experienced teachers locally as well as from abroad, and their high standards are reflected in our examination results (100% pass rate) and the quality of our dancers.

“We have seen entire families come through the studio, and each time our students dance at the DBIS school fairs, we are reminded of our small beginnings and the pleasure of being where we are today. “It is so important to love what you do,” Dawnna concludes. “Business goes up and down but we have always kept open. If you are passionate about your work, you will find success.”

Find it 

• DMR School of Ballet, www.dmr-hk.com
•  Discovery Bay International School, www.dbis.edu.hk
• Headland Homes, www.headlandhomes.hk


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