28 Nov 2022

Whanganui Men's Shed looking for new home to set up shop

3:12 pm on 28 November 2022
Whanganui Men's Shed president Bevan Chilcott.

Men's Shed president Bevan Chilcott. Photo: Robin Martin/RNZ

The clock is ticking on the Whanganui Men's Shed.

For about a decade its called a building at the former polytech site home - but it has to be out in January to make way for the city's new justice precinct.

Walk through the doors of Men's Shed and you immediately encounter the comforting sounds and smells of the workshop - and that's just how it's meant to be.

Opened on Wicksteed Street in 2012 it now has about 50 members - 30 per cent of whom are women.

President Bevan Chilcott - a doctor by profession - said he was typical of many the regulars who came in to potter and wax lyrical with their mates.

"I originally came here six or seven years ago and I wanted to learn how to inlay a tile into a table top and one of the senior chaps took me aside and spent a couple of hours with me and I came away thinking this is pretty cool, so you get hooked and I joined up."

Wood and metal work are staple activities at the Men's Shed, upholstery and furniture restoration are popular too - and somewhat unusually - its members are dab hands in the art of coffin making.

Chilcott said work aside, it was about the camaraderie.

"It's a giggle and a laugh and you have one another on quite a bit, but by having the women here it's kept the language much better.

"It's fun whether you even just come in for a cup of coffee, some of the older members now in their 90s just come in for morning tea or a coffee, it's just the fellowship."

Former truck driver Phil Judge has become a dab had at making coffins at Whanganui Men's Shed.

Former truck driver Phil Judge has become a dab had at making coffins. Photo: Robin Martin/RNZ

Phil Judge was putting together a coffin.

"We've got a jig over there and we set the sides up in the jig when we cut them cut the sides to length.

"Then we cut these little slots in them. See how we bend it? And we sit it in that jib and cut the ends to fit and reinforce them with these things in here and then cut the bottom and put the bottom on."

It was not something the former truck driver imagined he would be doing in retirement.

"Definitely not, no, but it's all right and I'm enjoying it.

"We make these coffins to order and we get through quite a few of them. I don't mind it's something I'd never done before."

And when the time comes he had considered using one himself.

"Yeah too right, why not?"

The Men's Shed has shifted four coffins this week alone and at $450 a pop they go a long way to meeting its annual $6000 operating costs.

Ian Jones used to manage the laundry at Whanganui Hospital.

He said the prospect of moving the Men's Shed was proving daunting.

"You know what it's like moving a house you've got to box everything up, so we're just going through that process how are we going to handle all this, box it all up, store it, new place to find or do we build a new place?

"So even though it might be a bit daunting it's a bit like eating an elephant ... just one bite at a time and then let's do the next thing."

Jones said it was important the Men's Shed found a new home because what it provided was so essential.

"Absolutely, I think one of the visions was for the old retired men and women to meet together, share stories, mental and physical stimulation and that mental health thing which seems to be the buzzword at the moment and it works."

Building of the $50 million justice precinct is set to begin in the middle of 2023.