We visit The Men’s Shed in Tauranga’s Historic Village, a real life Santa’s grotto with elves making toys for charities and children in need.

I’m expecting to meet a gaggle of grumpy old men when I visit the Men’s Shed, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s lunchtime when I arrive and if anyone deserves a ham sammie and a cup of hot tea, it’s these guys.
From afar, the Men’s Shed sits like a castle, set slightly aside from the rest of the Historic Village. It’s a green workshop, colossal in size, with a flag flying proudly from its mast. What I find inside totally throws me and I feel like I’ve been transported into a world that sets my inner child’s fire alight.
Organised clutter is an understatement. Every inch of space has been utilised and it’s bordering on being worthy for an episode of Hoarders.
Wooden toys created by the Men’s Shed, ready to go to families in need.

Boss Neville shows me round. “We don’t actually use the old saws anymore, because we have powered tools. But people just keep giving us things and we’re not sure where to put them, so they go up there.”

Much like Santa’s Workshop, there’s banging, clanging and bustle, it’s just a little dustier and the elves a tad slower. In one corner tiny offcuts are being sanded down and glued together to make coasters. I am impressed at the lack of waste. “We also make cheeseboards. Everybody loves a cheese board. They’re an excellent Christmas gift.” This elf’s pride is palpable.

Dave and Neville run the show. Dave’s not here when I visit, so Neville fills me in on a bit of the history behind the Men’s Shed. Eight or so years ago, a go-getter nurse decided to set up a workshop to teach recovering patients how to use the tools and make things, as a form of rehabilitation.

“Maybe because we’re not young anymore, and we’re not teachers, the training aspect never really took off. But we stayed in the shed; our time was better spent on the tools rather than trying to train someone else to use them.”

Thanks to the help of trustees, this old building went from derelict to a functional workshop.

“We started repairing and restoring old furniture and from there it just grew. People started coming to us and asking to have things made.”

The toys are a far cry from the plastic, noisy contraptions we see too much of today. From trains, trucks, ovens and wheelbarrows, there is fine craftsmanship, imagination and most importantly, love in every single piece.

“All of our timber is given to us – sometimes we even cut up old bed ends. We work with a number of charities who send us orders from all over New Zealand. The toys go to families who have nothing. That’s what it’s all about.”

“It’s a workshop for sure, but it’s more than that. We are all retired, so it’s somewhere to get together. It keeps our brains working. We talk to each other and we still learn a lot.”

When I mention to Neville that it must keep them very busy, the answer I get comes with a sparkle in his eye, just like jolly Saint Nick himself. “Oh but we have very long smokos.”