Free online Smoko Room to help construction workers beat lockdown isolation

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Being isolated for four weeks is not an easy feat for anyone. This is why MATES In Construction NZ, the charity set up to aid mental wellness and prevent suicides, is setting up a free online “Smoko Room”.

Designed to help people in the construction industry come together for a chat, it is designed to help them cope with anxiety, stress and worries amid the uncertainty of the Covid-19 lockdown.

It went online via the Zoom online meetings platform from 10.30am on April 1, and will run daily for one hour from 10.30am on Mondays to Fridays.

The Smoko Room will be open for anyone in the industry looking for support by talking to each other.

Each session will enable five people to enter, with the ability to set up more than one smoko room per day if needed.

To sign up, all people need to do is:

• Visit the MATES In Construction NZ web site at www.mates.net.nz  and register online. They will be asked to fill in four details — name, email, phone and occupation — and then press Send.

• They will then receive a phone call from one of the MATES Field Officers to confirm their registration, check in on their wellness, and offer a one-on-one session if necessary.

• Then they will get sent a link to join a Zoom meeting. The only thing they’ll need then is an internet connection on their phone or computer.

“We are aware of how men and women in our industry may be feeling right now, and we are keen to help them,” MATES In Construction NZ chief executive Victoria McArthur says.

“We know that guys who work on construction sites six days a week are working with their mates, but all of a sudden they have been thrown into a situation at home with no mates around them — a very different environment with its own pressures.

“We don’t want the guys to be doing it tough on their own, so we have created the Smoko Room to bring anyone in our industry — from building sites, commercial and civil site workers to senior professionals — into a safe environment where they can chat about what’s going on and get peer support.

“In the Smoko Room they will be talking to people who understand their work and their lives.”

McArthur adds that the Smoko Room will be a very structured and safe place, but the participants will find the atmosphere relaxing.

“We will always have two facilitators in the ‘room’, which will allow five other participants. If anything occurs in the room, MATES people can contact the person direct, and are able to pass on information to emergency services if needed.”

This is part of a wider suite of resources MATES is rolling out to help people doing it tough, including multiple resources on their web site, including step-by-step guides to getting financial or government help.

Other key resources and avenues of communication available to anyone in the industry right across New Zealand include:

• Phone: Call MATES on the helpline 0800 111 315 where one of the MATES team will be ready to pick up calls every day, 24/7, thanks to increasing the number of available lines.

• Text: Text MATES for free on 5353 and be messaged straight back.

• MATES Instagram and Facebook pages.

• Regular updates through direct online communications.

MATES in Construction field officer Slade McFarland says all these services are available to everyone in the construction sector, regardless of whether they have met MATES on site or their company is a supporter.

“Being isolated for four weeks is not an easy feat for anyone, let alone for guys and girls who might be struggling anyway. In these times we know humans do better with community around them,” McFarland says.

“The Smoko Room is free for everyone. It will give people an opportunity to keep in touch with what’s going on, to find out what’s happening with everyone in the industry, and to know that it’s ok if you’re struggling.

“Being able to talk about what we can do about it is the most important thing.”

MATES Field Officer B (Berhampore) Peleti adds: “Establishing relationships online will potentially save lives. It’s only going to get tougher out there, and men tend to shut down when they’re stressed.

“That’s not good, so MATES is giving men an opportunity to talk.

“We know men communicate better with each other in a group setting, so we’re providing men with a safe place to talk and engage, so they are more likely to open up.

“Our kaupapa is to provide a pathway to support, and engagement comes first. Once we get out there and invite them along, the Smoko Room will pick up momentum, particularly as more people struggle as the weeks go by.”