From chicken coops to gazebos: Retiree finds new purpose at NorthTec | Te Pūkenga

April 14, 2023
April 13, 2023

When Shelley Foster retired from her job and settled into a quieter life, she quickly realised she would need a hobby to keep her occupied. What happened next was a chain of events that led to Shelly applying to study construction at NorthTec | Te Pūkenga. So far, she’s having the time of her life.

“A girl friend of mine has a workshop in her garage where she does woodwork. She makes wooden jewelry, walking sticks, bowls, and things like that,” explains Shelly. “Then she found out about the foundation course in construction at NorthTec. She was so passionate and enthusiastic that I decided I wanted to do it too. So, we signed up together.”

Last year, the two friends completed the Certificate in Foundation Skills (Level 2)- Carpentry, a six-month course that taught them all the basics of woodworking. They enjoyed themselves so much that they immediately signed up for the next course. This year they are undertaking the Certificate in Construction Trade Skills (Level 3) – Carpentry and Shelly has big dreams for what she will do with her newfound skills.

“I plan to build a six-sided gazebo at the bottom of my garden,” Shelly says with a big grin. “I want it to be a hexagonal shape, with either a Clearlite roof or a living green roof. I may have to create my own plans, though, as I haven’t seen any six-sided gazebos before. Only eight. It will be in the perfect spot for mid-day naps in the summer and gets lots of sun. I can’t wait to get started.”

Shelley hasn’t yet learnt all the skills need to create her dream gazebo, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t already creating other home improvement projects on the course. Her current building project is an A-frame chicken coop, something Shelly thinks is bound to be handy given the price of eggs these days.

“I’ve really found a new passion,” Shelley confesses. “I wake up every day excited, wondering what I’ll be doing in the workshop that day and what new skills I’ll learn. I’m planning out a workshop space at my own home now. I’ve already purchased some of the bigger tools I’ll need like tables saws, grinders, and such. I’d like to have it set up like a proper craftsman space.”

“If I was 40 years younger, I would definitely be taking this on as a full-time job and take up more study in things like plumbing and electrical engineering. It’s so empowering to be able to fix things around my home and handle power tools and heavy machinery. I really don’t know why men kept it a secret to themselves for so long. It’s so much fun.”

Despite the fun she is now having, Shelly did have her reservations when she first began at NorthTec | Te Pūkenga. She was worried her age and her gender might slow her down. But it turned out her worries were for nothing.

“Anyone can do it. We can work at our own pace and the tutors are super helpful. Nothing is too heavy for me to lift, there’s always a way to work around something that I can’t physically do and there’s always someone there to help if you need it. The hardest part for us older members of the class is bending over constantly, your back can get a little sore if you’re not used to it. But there are ways to work around that too.”

Shelley is a firm believer that there’s something for everybody when it comes to tertiary education, no matter your age or background.

“I think it’s important to have something that makes your life meaningful. You have to have something that gets you up in the morning, something that you’re working towards, especially once you retire. So many people have nothing to live for after they finish work. There’s always time to find a new passion and learn something new.”

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