Why writing about moving Down Under has opened up a whole new world
When Leanne Ross, who is married to former Ulster Rugby star Bronson, started a blog about her plans to move to New Zealand, she never knew how big it would become. By Stephanie Bell
When Ulster rugby WAG Leanne Ross started blogging about her plans to start a new life in her husband, Bronson's native New Zealand later this year she was taken totally by surprise at the number of people dreaming of life in a new country.
The Belfast marketing and digital PR specialist has amassed a huge following online as she takes people through not just the practical steps of emigrating but her own personal thoughts and feelings on leaving home and family behind to start over again.
Initially she started her blog Operation Emigration as a way of keeping her family and friends updated on her plans and has been surprised to have attracted readers worldwide who shared their desire to make a similar move and are eager to see how it pans out in real life for the family.
Having blogged for the past three years about her work in Digital PR this is Leanne's first personal blog which she has very much written from the heart.
In what is at times funny, heart warming, personal and very frank Leanne's blog takes readers through the emotional roller coaster of taking such a big step especially with the needs of her son Che (7) who has autism uppermost in both of their minds.
Leanne (32) and Bonson (31) who was born in Oamaru in New Zealand and played for Coventry before signing for the Ulster Rugby team in 2013, met just over two years ago through the dating app Tinder.
After a whirlwind romance they eloped to marry in secret in Croatia in June 2015 - 400 days after meeting according to Leanne's calculations - because their two families lived on opposite sides of the world and arranging a ceremony to suit both was nigh on impossible.
It was less than a year into married life that they took the huge decision to pack up and leave their home in Belfast where Leanne (32) has carved out a successful career as a freelance marketing specialist.
Last year she also self published a very successful "how to" book entitled Talk is Cheap which aims to guide small companies through digital PR. The book soared to the top five in Amazon's PR section.
The impetus to move across the world was taken when Bronson's contract with Ulster Rugby wasn't renewed this year. The couple felt that Bronson would have more opportunities to continue to work in some capacity in the sport he loves in his rugby-mad homeland.
But while rugby players enjoy a level of celebrity here also Leanne reveals that the life of a WAG is not quite as glamorous as it seems.
She says: "The Rugby WAG life is not really what people imagine it is. You have to cope with the very strict lifestyle that modern players have to adhere to. They are told what to eat, when to eat, when to sleep and then they are away from home a lot. I would have had a big grocery bill, especially at the butchers as Bronson had to have a lot of protein in his diet."
She points out: "Players experience a huge amount of mental and emotional stress as they are fighting every week for their position. The rest of us go into work on the Monday and don't have to worry if we will still be there on Friday. That constant uncertainty is really difficult and it is a strange dynamic to live with and I am really grateful that I didn't have to do it for very long. I met Bronson towards the end of his career as it is not an easy life to lead and most wives will have to bear it for 10 years or more.
"We are starting our life now and we will have a new home, new jobs and Bronson's family around us. That will be a new kind of stress but it will be a chance to enjoy a family life and maybe have another child and get Che the dog he always wanted and have a lovely new quality of life."
Che has been a major factor in their decision to emigrate. He has autism and Leanne deals with her worries and concerns about uprooting her son very honestly in her blog. The nature of little Che's needs mean that life Down Under will actually be much richer for him and with permission from his dad to let him go, the couple really had nothing standing in their way.
Leanne has been assured by a specialist consultant that her son will enjoy a better quality of life in New Zealand.
She explains: "At first I thought that I couldn't take Che away from his birth father, so the move to New Zealand couldn't happen but I spoke to Che's father and he has been very selfless.
"Che's autism means he doesn't like crowds or noise and New Zealand is such a big country with only four million people in it compared to 60 million in the UK.
"We visited in March for my brother-in-law's wedding which really helped us make up our minds. There is so much space even in the big cities and they have massive parks in which you will find about three families at any one time which Che loved. When the sun shines here everyone heads to the park and it is too crowded and noisy for Che.
"In New Zealand we can enjoy a quiet life which will suit Che. He can go outside and it won't be noisy and he will love it.
"Che is really settled in Cranmore Integrated School in Finaghy which has been fantastic. He does have a really high IQ but needed extra support to cope with noise and smells and crowds and had a one-to-one classroom assistant.
"But he has progressed fantastically and now because he is doing so well he has lost his classroom assistant. That also helped makes the decision to emigrate that little bit easier.
"The health service in New Zealand is fantastic. I had to fight for a year and half and get the backing of MLAs here to get the support he needs. Over there you pay at the point of delivery so there are no long waiting lists."
As part of their visa application the couple have had to get Che assessed by a paediatric neurologist to determine what his needs will be for the next five or 10 years - a move welcomed by Leanne as it means the New Zealand authorities are taking her son's needs on board.
She says: "The consultant wrote a great report saying Che was a very capable child who is like a lot of other children and just wants to be invited to play and have friends.
"Also she said she believes he will thrive there. I didn't realise this but apparently some children in Northern Ireland are given Vitamin D supplements as it helps with brain development.
"With all the sunshine in New Zealand Che will get lots of Vitamin D and that can only be of benefit to him."