A post on the Wesley Community Action Cannon’s Creek Facebook page on May 1 this year had the following announcement: ‘Our new Men’s Group at Cannons Creek starts on Friday with a gardening session. Come along to 206 Mungavin Ave at 12.30 on Friday May 3 to help get our community gardens ready for winter. We’ll provide the tools. All men welcome!’

It was the start of what has become a regular, twice-weekly get-together for about 15 men overall – and certainly for a hard core of about eight. The facilitators are Gene McCarten from Wesley House, Findlay Siania from Maraeroa Health Clinic and Peter Mellars and Reihana Ngatoro from Ora Toa Health.

Gene says that the sessions give the men a chance to learn new skills, do a bit of community work, visit places of interest, and listen to guest speakers.

Since May the men have enjoyed Real Good Kai cooking sessions, a Good Cents budgeting session, learned CPR and had a workshop about the ins and outs of mobile phone plans. At that session the facilitator told the men about a computer course that is available and starting the following week – so several men signed up for that.

They have had trips to places like Parliament and the Police College and they’ve listened to speakers on subjects like earthquake and tsunami preparedness, the local body elections and next year’s marijuana referendum. Listening to these speakers is a kind of U3A (University of the third Age) for Cannon’s Creek men who may be very unlikely to make it to the mainstream U3A programme.

“At the end of every session,” says Gene, “the boys come out having learnt something – come out smarter about something, and get clued-up about current issues. Wesley House has a timebank so we collaborate with other time banks and cover the costs of getting a speaker. The men also get a good feed – and if there are any leftovers, they can take them home.

“But the main focus of the group is to get these guys to talk about their life, and talk about their problems. The men that come are mostly older – retired or unemployed. I’d like to get more younger men into it but they seem to shy away from group settings. The men are still struggling with their personal problems, and we are chipping away at that, but having conversations, connecting with other men, getting to know each other and unloading stuff that they need to unload – this is really the real value of the group. Most of these guys have very little, and it is good for them to be able to talk about family issues, money issues, lack of food issues. The group provides a safe, non-judgemental place for them to talk.

“They enjoy working in the community too. It makes them feel valued. Yesterday we had a working bee clearing out a house for an older lady, and they powered through it. I’ve never seen so many people in one house. As well as helping families in the community, we’ve had working bees in the community gardens – clearing cuttings, digging up new plots and doing some actual planting. These will continue throughout the year as the seasons change and the need for intensive gardening is required. I think older men forget that they are still useful, they still have skills and they are still fun to be around.”

Even in four or five months there have been changes in the men: “They are more confident with other men and in the group,” says Gene. “They are now open to any subject. For example we had a health nurse talk about the HPV cervical cancer vaccine and they were keen to hear about that for their daughters and granddaughters…”.

Gene’s aim is to grow the group and get more men who would benefit from the activities engaged. There are things planned for the rest of the year including yoga sessions and a special lunch:

“Some of the people that the boys have helped are going diving to get some paua and put on a lunch – to say thank you.” These men are certainly valued.

John Mu
I like going to the men’s group because I need to get out of the house. It’s a bunch of men getting together and talking about anything and everything – what’s ever on your mind. Whatever is said stays in there. I have made some friends with men that I had seen around but I never knew. We all come together.

We get to do things and learn things and help out in other places. I feel like being part of the community again. When you are helping, you feel good.

Being part of the group is really rewarding. Yesterday we went to Te Papa and we were given a tour of the art and artefacts behind closed doors. That wowed me. You would usually never get to see those places.

Just because I am older doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot more I can learn. This has given me another perspective on life.

Shay Green
It has been fantastic. I am enjoying it a lot. It is a chance for me to learn a lot, meet other guys – and it is helping me keep out of trouble.

I am the only younger one and I enjoy learning from the other guys who are mostly in their 40s and 50s. Being in the group helps me to be more mature, and to open up more and to be brave about things. Genuine stuff. I have had some hard times and they have too.

And I enjoy helping other people, like cleaning out the old lady’s house last week. That way you can connect with the community. I also really enjoyed the cooking programme. Learning to cook something properly rather than just throw something together… Learning about how to be prepared for earthquakes and voting in the local elections, and how to save money…

For me it has changed me, opened up my eyes.