Jenni Gladstone - Tairāwhiti Coffin Club

When Jenni Gladstone saw an ad in the local paper calling for people interested in starting a Coffin Club she knew immediately that she wanted to be a part of it. She was doing some weaving at the time and had always wanted to weave a Harakeke casket. Although she was a little unsure of what to expect she went along to see what it was all about, determined to be a part of the club if she could be. 

The first meeting  held in 2018 was to see if there was enough community interest to start a club similar to the successful Rotorua Coffin Club. There was a swell of community support from the beginning and the Gisborne club became the sixth to be established nationwide. There is a one-off joining fee of $30 to join the Tairawhiti club and a membership fee of $10 a year. Membership entitles people to make a casket ‘at cost’ paying $350 in materials. For this fee people can have a coffin built by professional joiners who volunteer their time to the club. Members then decorate and furnish the coffins as they please. 

Jenni started attending the club twice a week and the initial club members soon found their feet building a coffin for a committee member's friend as their first build.  There was a core group of volunteers from the beginning and at first Jenni would mainly watch. There was lots of talking and having coffee and she always felt like part of the team, being involved in decision making from the start and helping out wherever she could. 

She quickly learnt just how much work goes into building a coffin. Her painting skills have developed and she has now learnt how to paint to a high standard. She has spent time encouraging and supporting others to have the confidence to have a go at painting their own coffin. The club aims to provide the opportunity for people to design and create their own coffins as a part of a fun and supportive group, reducing costs and increasing choice in the community.

Jenni believes the most valuable part of being a club member is the talking that happens as people are going about their work. Whether it’s about coffins, about death and dying, or just life in general. Some people need more support with the whole process as their families may be uncomfortable with the idea. Jenni can see the value in just talking it through, having a cuppa and hearing people's stories. Although most people are involved in the club for the time it takes to complete their coffin the club do get a few people that have made their coffins already but still come down for a coffee and a chat. What Jenni has gained most from the club is meeting the other people involved—people she may have walked past in the street and never got to know. 

While the club does help people to think about planning for the end of life stage, it’s a very individual thing and people will make their coffins when they feel ready.  In a way, it’s normalising the process of preparing for a life event that we all experience. Jenni recommends that before you think about making a coffin just go down on a Saturday morning. “Come and have a coffee and sit with us, then have a look around,” she encourages. Jenni has brought her own children down to the club at various times so that they can see that it’s a friendly place and there is nothing morbid about the process of building and decorating a coffin.

Jenni believes that the club will continue to grow as the need in the community grows. People are motivated to come along because they want to make things easier for their families, 

People aren’t thinking about themselves, they are thinking about everyone else, wanting to prepare their children or the rest of their families. People come along (to the Coffin Club) because they don’t want to spend heaps of money on something that is only going to be used once and they don’t want to leave their children or their family in debt.” 

Jenni shares the different focuses and motivations that people bring to the club. There is a huge range with some people putting a lot of thought into how they will look in their coffins and others not caring much about that side of things. There are all sorts of people and coffins, some are quite artistic including  images like a family tree, favourite things, hobbies or embellishments inside and out.

None of the coffins are made until they are paid for so the club doesn't have coffins in stock. , The club are aware that not everyone has the kind of money saved to buy a coffin when it’s needed and they do have a process where people can laybuy them making it more affordable for some. 

 When asked what kind of coffin Jenni will make for herself she replied, 

“I haven’t made my own coffin yet neither have the others in the committee. For me, it’s all about helping everyone else.” 

If you have the kind of skills that could be utilised in making ‘underground furniture’ and conversations about the practicalities of death and dying don’t faze you. Pop down on for a cuppa on a Saturday morning, the Tairawhiti Coffin Club may be a good volunteering fit for you.