A place for men in Tairawhiti - 6 August 2014

Tauawhi Men's CentreSince Tauawhi Men's Centre opened in Gisborne in July 2010, more than 500 men have used its one-stop shop service.

"We haven't actually gone out looking for work; it's come to us," says Co-ordinator Tim Marshall.

Many of the men who come in refer themselves or come on the recommendation of a community organisation.

They are seen by a small team including Tim, counsellors Tangi Hepi and Bruce Montgomery, volunteers and interns.

"The word is getting around now that we're OK people to go to. One young boy came and asked if he could have a chat. He'd heard I give really good advice," says Tim.

"There is more credibility if one of their mates is recommending you. Hopefully it tells us we're doing something right."

Services for men are the focus for the centre, whose doors are open from 10am to 3pm, Monday to Friday, with a counselling service for individual or group support, advocacy, legal advice, health checks and a range of social work.

"We had a sense there was a gap for men who would respond to the message ‘It's OK to ask for help', but didn't necessarily know where to go.

"There aren't a lot of obvious places targeted at men or where you can come and talk to other men," says Tim.

The idea for a men's centre was proposed in mid-2007 by Tairawhiti Men Against Violence, an informal group of men in the Gisborne region who aimed to start a ‘revolution of non-violence' in 2006 after three local intimate partner murder-suicides in two months.

The Gisborne Herald was also very supportive of the group. But the group lacked the resources.

In 2009, child protection NGO Family Works Tairawhiti offered the space above their op shop and this became the Tauawhi Men's Centre.

Tim says Tauawhi would not have been possible without the support of Family Works and their area manager, Leslynne Jackson.

"Leslynne's influence and the flexibility we have had to develop Tauawhi have been crucial," says Tim.

As well as providing the space and opportunity, Family Works employ Tim and the counselling staff, Tangi and Bruce.

"We have, in effect, become the men's service of the wider Family Works team, which gives us the support of a generic service for whanau, while maintaining our ability to be a doorway for men to access support."

Tim says he still gets questions about having women at the centre.

"We never set out to be exclusive of women but we wanted to create a space where men have conversations with men. It's a different conversation, men talking together.

"I think women have talked as groups of women for a long time and we need to catch up, really."

Men can challenge other men's behaviour, and this is especially powerful when it comes from men like Vic Tamati who have experienced family violence, says Tim.

"We work for the protection of women but we work from a man's perspective, where men do the work."

While women receive support to change their behaviour and their lives, there is often little support for men, says Tim.

"A lot of our work is getting men to focus on themselves. Every time you talk about your partner, you divert attention from yourself and if you want to make a change it has to be with you.

"If you really do the work with yourself then your partner will see that and make a choice about whether she wants to do the work for herself.

"I don't think we've had a men's movement. That's part of what we're trying to do.

"We need a men's movement in the same way we've had a women's movement."

One Gisborne man says he's used the centre as a safe place to have time out and receive support.

"I definitely needed to talk to someone and the men's centre gave me that. The sessions I've had there are fantastic. They're brilliant.

"When you've got a problem, if you haven't got the right person to talk to, that problem just gets bigger and bigger. It festers inside you."

He says he is learning to control his emotions and take ownership of his anger. He does not plan to stop going to Tauawhi any time soon.

"I'm not cured but I now know where I'm heading," he says.

Tim says that although he's seen a lot of change in the time the centre's been open, it can be hard for men to understand that the habits of a lifetime can take a long time to change.

Ideally, Tauawhi would have the funding to hire an advocate who could help men navigate government agencies including the justice and social assistance systems.

He's got his sights on a project that would help men understand their rights and responsibilities when they have protection orders taken out against them.

Men are often bewildered when a bailiff or police officer hands them a big wad of protection order papers. Their first instinct can be to contact their ex-partner, something that can be forbidden under the orders.

"Men get a long list of things they can't do under the protection order. I'd like to be able to explain what they can do, for example, how they can arrange to see their kids."


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