The Re-Creators have the aim of providing people with the skills to upcycle items for reuse. Alexia Santamaria spoke with Geraldine Tew about her passion for the environment and diversity.
Words: Alexia Santamaria
Watching Geraldine Tew help kids in her upcycling class, her great sense of humour and passion for her work comes through clearly. Along with two other facilitators, Tew darts from table to table, helping kids paint, drill and plant until all the pint-sized participants are the proud owners of their very own planter box.
But this isn’t just a class where kids learn to ‘make stuff’. There’s a very clear driver behind everything Tew does — the environment, and doing what she can to halt the massive assault humans are making on it. “I’m not a hippy greeny,” she laughs. “I’m just passionate about the environment and really wanted to start a social enterprise to show kids — and adults — how we don’t need to just keep buying things that end up in landfill. We can reuse so many objects to make other things, and learn some new skills while having some mindful downtime.”
I see what she means about the mindfulness part. While I’m not exactly super craft girl, watching her class makes me realise how therapeutic and satisfying it is to make something yourself and escape the madness of technology for awhile. “Our adult classes are very popular,” says Tew. “People love creating things and escaping their busy lives for an hour or two each week. It’s great for their self-esteem, but also for instilling a sense of calm in a very busy world.”
Tew’s background makes her the perfect person to start up an enterprise like The Re-Creators. With a Bachelor of Science in Surveying from Trinity College Dublin, she went on to work in a very corporate environment at PWC Global in London. She decided to see the world — the other side of the world to be precise — and took up a post with PWC in Auckland. Eighteen years, a husband and three kids later, she’s still here. “I love New Zealand. It’s so beautiful and the people are so relaxed.” Tew has always been a passionate environmentalist, and one year after arriving in New Zealand she moved into a role at Auckland Council in Environmental Compliance. She loved it and stayed there for two years but when a job came up in the Refugee and Protection unit, she jumped on it and stayed there for another 14 years.
“It’s fair to say the environment and diversity are my biggest passions, and The Re-Creators has been my way of squishing them together into one social enterprise. Many of our tutors are migrants who, despite being highly qualified, have struggled to get work here. It’s been amazing creating a platform where other people can benefit from the amazing skills they have, and they can make a modest income. Like me, they are passionate about teaching others to upcycle anything they can, rather than sending it to the tip. They understand the planet is in a huge mess and we have to do something to stop it, and fast.”
The Re-Creators run classes in different types of upcycling. Everything from turning plastic bottles into earrings, decorating cans to attract bees and ladybirds, to bigger projects like mastering power tools. In the kids’ classes there’s always a gentle message. For example, kids learn to sew trees, but the trees are kauri-shaped, opening up dialogue about kauri dieback disease. “We need to teach these kids, because they will be the changemakers, but we can’t go in there all heavy-handed and doom and gloom. That won’t help anyone. The message is serious but the medium has to be light.”
The ultimate goal is to have classes all over New Zealand and to build on the online directory they have started, where the talented tutors can sell their own personal upcycling products like home décor, art, toys and more. “I would love to see a branch of The Re-Creators in every town and city in New Zealand,” says Tew. “We have created the content and systems, and it’s there for sharing so we can build a strong solid upcycling culture right through New Zealand.”