Haven of enterprise, fun and friendship officially opens

Hibiscus Men’s Shed chair Maurice Browning, centre in grey, flanked by members, from left, Des Brosnahan, Bob Whittle, Dennis Harll, Dave Foster and Gavin du Toit.

The official opening of the Hibiscus Men’s Shed’s new home in Silverdale on September 16 was the culmination of a journey that started with a vision eight years ago to create a place of creativity and companionship for men in the area.

The end result is an airy 450sqm facility, featuring spacious engineering and woodworking sections, a paint shop, and spaces for IT, hobby work and other projects. It also boasts a roomy lunch/meeting room and modern kitchen.

The initiative began in mid-2015, when a small group of locals began holding monthly interest meetings, at a time when a movement already well established in Australia was taking off in New Zealand. 

The following year, the Hibiscus & Bays Local Board approved the site in Silverdale War Memorial Park, setting off a lengthy process of resource consent, planning approval and fundraising.

Temporary premises were opened in Stanmore Bay in 2017, and the first sod was turned at the Silverdale site at a January 2020 dawn ceremony.

Much of the work was carried out by members who had been in the building or related industries, says chair Maurice Browning. Local companies contributed significantly, through pro bono or subsidised services.

“If we had been paying for it, we couldn’t have afforded it,” he says. The many contributors will be recognised on an honours board.

Minor hitches along the way included the “inconvenient” theft of some equipment about 18 months ago, while the Covid pandemic was “an annoyance, more than anything else”.

Also extending the timeline was a decision that no-one would work for more than three hours a day, given that “we’re all getting on a bit, and some of this stuff is very heavy. It takes its toll on you.”

The shed currently has 84 members, and on a good day – Tuesdays tend to be the busiest – as many as 28 men may be on site. The average age is about 75.

“A lot of people inquiring about the shed are downsizing, moving into apartments or retirement villages, and no longer have space for their tools, or the freedom to run a noisy workshop,” Maurice says. “And their wife says, ‘you need something to do, go and join the men’s shed’. Here they can come and bash and crash, which they can’t do at home.”

It’s the downsizing factor that ensures the shed is so well-stocked. Far more equipment is offered than needed, and what can’t be used is donated to other groups.

Many men upon retirement find themselves with a shrunken social circle and struggle to make new friends. Maurice says men tend to open up more while working together, even about health matters that they wouldn’t ordinarily be comfortable discussing.

Men being men, he laughs, there might even be an offer to get the health problem sorted, with the help of a power tool or two: “We can fix that right now, come outside and we’ll give it a wee drill, no problem at all.”

On a more serious note, the support offered after bereavement has meant a great deal.

“Three of us lost our wives this year, and this place has been a godsend,” Maurice says. “Everyone has been absolutely magnificent. Any help you want, just come and talk. Because they’ve all been through it at some stage, with wives, family members, whatever. It just goes with the age group.”

“They’re a great bunch of guys,” he adds. “If I didn’t have this place to come to every morning, I don’t really know what I’d be doing.”