3 Mar 2017

Celebrating life with The Coffin Club

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:31 pm on 3 March 2017

A Rotorua-based group of rebellious and creative Kiwi seniors has started what they call the Coffin Club to challenge ideas about death and offer an alternative to over-priced funeral directors.

About 60 members meet once a week to decorate and make their own coffins.

Filmmaker and educator Briar March, who is making a documentary about the club, told RNZ's Jesse Mulligan it was an amazing community group.

“It’s quite a confronting thing to do but what I’ve realised is that they’re actually coming to terms with their own mortality.

There were a range of coffins being created, she said.

“Some of them have Elvis’ all over them, there’s one full of chickens, one lady has covered her coffin in [love] letters from her dead husband.”

They were expressions of their personality and their lives, she said.

With standard coffins costing about $2000, the group has found a much cheaper option, starting at $250.

The group’s founder, Katie Williams, began meetings in her backyard.

But March said it grew and grew and now operated out of an old business building, with the group meeting every Wednesday from 7am to 1pm.

“In that time there’s… mainly the guys, who are constructing the coffins, and then there are all the other people who are decorating them, there’s even some people who are permanently on morning tea.”

The group didn't only create coffins for its members.

“Sometimes they have families in need who turn up and they can’t afford a coffin… and they go there and they’re able to buy a coffin.

“And they also make coffins for babies and they donate them to the local hospital.”

Their work hasn’t always been welcomed by the funeral industry, March said, which she suspected might be due to the potential loss of business.

She planned to make her documentary about the group as a musical, with every part sung and danced by Coffin Club members.

“In the film I also want to talk about aging and give a fresh perspective on aging and show, you know, you can really have fun with it, which is what these guys are doing.”

Find out more about the documentary and the Coffin Club here.

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)