Resting places made with love

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MEASURE: Art van Biene and Lawrence Boynton mark out the base for Harry Sutcliffe’s coffin. Photos Louis Klaassen D5520-02

IT’S grave business at the Kawerau Life Konnect buildings every Wednesday morning.

At when you enter the workshop, you hear the quick sound of power tools and the ladies chatting and you smell fresh paint and sawdust. At the far end of the room you see a man lying on a slab of wood accompanied by two others taking measurements. You’ve arrived at the Kawerau Coffin Club.

The man lying on the slab of wood, supported by two benches at each end, is Harry Sutcliffe who is being measured for the base of the coffin he will build for himself. There are four coffins in the room, each at different stages.

Gary Abraham’s coffin is partly done. The body of his coffin has been assembled and he works on making it shine with a French polish. Gay Sutcliffe’s coffin is near completion as she gives it a lick of white paint.

The fourth coffin in the workshop has been assembled and clamps help it stay in place. The next step is to add the upholstery, a water proof plastic layer before a satin layer for a decorative touch. This coffin is being built as a spare.

Over in the corner, Robyn McCabe paints a small box white, made especially for ashes. In the same corner are smaller coffins, designed and built for babies.

The tiny coffins are fitted with a soft layer of white lace and gifted to the hospital for miscarriages and still births.

Handmade pouches are also gifted with the coffins, to wrap around the body, made from material bought from the second-hand shop.

The Kawerau Coffin Club was established in August last year, by Robyn and her husband, Graham Goodall. To date, they have more than 40 members and have made 15 coffins – five of those made and purchased by people in the community.

The Kawerau club is a replica of Rotorua’s coffin construction club. Robyn and Graham held public meetings to see what the interest would be. To their surprise there was a lot of interest in the initiative.

Nearly a year later, the club is self-supporting, with the tools, materials and space needed to make the coffins. It’s a social gathering, Graham said. Every Wednesday the group meets, members have morning tea together, and help build and design their own and each other’s coffins.

Graham and Robyn are yet to build their own coffins because the club has been so busy. “We are proud of what we are doing for the community,” says Graham. “A coffin is someone’s final resting place. The club gives people an option.”

He says otherwise the choice is “between the undertaker’s coffins and a rubbish bag”. Making your own is “a dignifying farewell more than anything”.

Graham says making your own coffin is an inexpensive option. To join the club costs $10 a year. A coffin made at the club would sell for $460 to a non-member, which includes plastic lining and wooden handles.

The coffin-making club meets at Kawerau Life Konnect, 371 River Road, every Wednesday morning. Those interested in the craft can visit the club from 8.30am to 12pm. For further enquiries, phone Harry on 07 3236898 or Graham on 07 3236281.


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