Bryan Mearns is on a Mission, but he is not on it alone. Bryan has a skilled and committed team behind him. However, he is in the driver’s seat and intent on getting to the destination. His destination is the opening of a building that will house the work and members of Whitianga’s MenZshed.
There’s a short and good news history here. Some years ago, Whitianga Lions Club introduced the idea of having a local MenZshed. The Secretary at the time was Kevin Robinson who proposed the idea. At about the same time, Bryan was on a journey of his own, having just come to live in Whitianga with a plan for retirement and to enjoy more time together with his wife. Their children were now adults and on their way in life. Plans seemed set, but in just a few weeks Bryan became a nurse. Dianne was diagnosed with cancer and so began a long battle and a very different retirement than they both had imagined. After Dianne’s death, Bryan found life was less meaningful and somewhat alone. He knew of other men in the same situation and he knew he needed to do something to change the cycle of the way things were. Bryan found himself thinking about the possibility of a MenZshed. Thus with this good idea brewing from more than one source at the same time, and with knowledge of successful MenZshed in other places, Kevin Robinson, the Whitianga Lions and Bryan, Whitianga Menzshed became a reality.
“Our current shed is owned and gifted by Richard Vettner of Peninsula Roofing” says Bryan. “We have that rent free, which has been an amazing gift from Richard. He is a beautifully spirited man. But now the success of the MenZshed has meant we are too crowded. We have more people wanting to be Sheddies than we have bench space for them. We are so very limited in the workshop space. There is no room to put tools and nowhere safe to do welding which is often an essential part of fixing anything.” Bryan added.
“The MenZshed is over subscribed, like you would not believe.”
If you visit the Whitianga MenZshed on south highway, you are greeted by a hive of activity - men engaged in electrical work, carpentry, making, repairing and designing any number of things, many a part of much larger projects for the community. You immediately notice that its crowded. There is little room for machinery being used and for smoko, its standing room only.
Another very obvious aspect clearly stands out - the friendship and camaraderie among all the men.
Bryan is very clear as to the value of the MenZshed in the community. “When our guys sit down and start talking in the smoko room, it is amazing the support they can get from those in similar circumstances. Men finish their career and go into nothingness. They need company. They need to be useful and use the skills they have gained in life. Some need to have a go enjoying work with their hands, after a life time in the office or on the road. The amount of support from the wives in terms of “ get them out from under my feet” goes without saying,” smiles Bryan. “I went from being Bryan Mearns, the real estate agent, to Bryan Mearns the nurse, and then Bryan Mearns, a widower. I found others were in grief situations just like me and grief needs many pathways to get through. To work alongside someone and chat about life is such a productive way to restore yourself and help restore others.”
Bryan returns to his role of being the driver behind getting the new MenZshed, recounting what has been done. In January 2021, with the support of the MenZshed team, Bryan took a trip to Keri Keri to see the new MenZshed that was being built there. He had talked previously with the Keri Keri leaders. They had been working out of an old house and their membership had grown, similar to the path of Whitianga MenZshed.. It became impossible to work with the small space. Within nine months of building their new shed, built by Kiwi Sheds, their paid up membership increased to over 100. Bryan could see that this was what was needed for their own situation. The context was very similar to Keri Keri.
“We started looking for a suitable site for a new MenZshed. After looking at many possible sites, we discussed with the local scouts their lease on Sheriffs Field next to the Rescue Helicopter site. After making submissions to the appropriate parties, we gained approval to be a part of the lease which is for another 36 years. We have the lease. We have the land. We have a definite place for that shed to go. We have had plans and specifications done. We have started the application for a permit process. This is being handled by Kiwi sheds on our behalf. Once we get through the permit process and we have a permit to build, we have community members who will dig out the sub base, compact it and get it shovel ready to build.” Bryan breathes a sigh. “But just now, we are a bit stuck.”
So far, the MenZshed has raised and saved over $ 35,000 in a little over 12 months. However, they need to generate $100,000 above what has been raised, to be able to approach Trust Waikato and Lotteries to make a grant for the balance required to pay for the building. To reach that $135, 000 threshold at the rate they raised $35,000, would take a fewyears. “That’s too slow,” says Bryan. “We are working hard on the Building Consent and as soon as we get that, we are in need of two things to have happened,” explains Bryan.
“The first is to reach out to, or hear from, benefactors to make $100,000 possible. We can offer aiming rights on our shed. Maybe 10 people or companies can give $10,000 each or five can give $20,000. There might even be one person or company who is able to offer the full amount of $100,000.
The second is alluded to. We are working with the Thames Coromandel District Council to obtain the building consent. TCDC has approved that we can lease the land, but it is the expediency of the Building Consent that is not so straight forward. We seek someone from the Council to walk beside us in the complexities to get it through. The land is adjacent to the airport so it keeps our noisy machines away from residential housing. It’s vital to get the Building Consent before we can raise the money. People have confidence in a build ready project. Then we go to the Waikato Trust and Lotteries as mentioned previously.
With TCDC’s support and walking with them, Bryan believes all this this can be done. “The MenZshed is a vital unit of generosity in this community. It fills several roles. My dream is to see the MenZshed housed in a building that has the space and safety to provide for the wellbeing of the men that go there and that we can continue to give back to the community. The generosity of people here is stunning, the way they get behind community projects. It may be too optimistic to expect anything up before two years, but I think we need to see something happening in the next 12 months. It’s not good for time to elapse with no progress. It is really important to keep the momentum up.
Brian concludes, “ I have eight children and twelve grandchildren. I have had a superb life and so I want to enrich the lives of others. In that I am not alone. “