Kaumātua Days breaking social isolation

Looking around the Woolston Club hall packed with hundreds of elderly Cantabrians, it’s inspiring to think the Kaumātua Days started with just 30 people four years ago.

Hosted once a month by Maori collaborative group Te Puna Oranga, the Kaumātua Days began soon after the earthquakes in an effort to bring together socially isolated elderly people living in the eastern suburbs. A number of young people also attend voluntarily to help serve food and ensure everything runs smoothly.

Te Puna Oranga manager Tania Mataki says numbers continue to steadily grow, with at least 150 people from as far afield as Hornby and Templeton now converging on the Woolston Club for the opportunity to eat, sing, laugh and build lasting friendships.

“We don’t turn anyone away; everyone is welcome,” she says. “It’s all about getting to know and connect with others and break the isolation.”

Linwood residents Harry and Heather Ngarae have been regulars since just after the initiative started and they eagerly look forward to it every month.

“We heard about it through the people involved and it sounded like something to do,” says Heather. “It’s very social and a good chance to catch up with everyone and make new friends. My only regret is that we didn’t find out about it sooner.”

For Harry, the best thing about the days is the karaoke. “I love it; I’ll sing anything,” he laughs. “When I’m not singing up the front I enjoy relaxing and meeting different people. It gives us something to do instead of sitting at home.”

Te Puna Oranga received $68,000 from New Zealand Red Cross' community-led grant initiative to fund the Kaumātua Days for two years. Three years later it’s still going from strength to strength.

Manager Daniel Mataki says the funding has made a huge difference to the lives and wellbeing of kaumātua across Christchurch.

“We are so grateful to the Red Cross for the money they provided us to make this happen,” says Daniel. “It’s made a real difference to the lives of a lot of kaumātua who otherwise wouldn’t have the same amount of social connection.”