Yoko Wakiya is curious by nature, always wondering, “what is this? What can it be used for?”.  As a child in Japan in the 1940s, she grew up with no-waste values; she remembers her mother repeatedly mending her apron, until it was a patchwork in the end.  Yoko loves creating and learning, and over the years has taught herself craft from books and the internet.  Wanting to do something useful for her community in her retirement, she was volunteering at the Arts Recycling Centre at Square Edge Community Arts.  The then Director, John Barnes, generously gave her the use of a room free of charge.  With materials from the Arts Recycling Centre, she began running workshops – and Upcycling Club 1 was born.  The aim is to help people create something beautiful and useful using waste materials. Yoko also includes natural materials  like plants, stones, dried flowers and feathers, to encourage an appreciation of our natural environment.

Creativity, says Yoko, is good for the brain – and we all need to have some fun.  There is a sense of accomplishment in creating something useful and/or beautiful, especially from material that would otherwise go to waste.  She enjoys seeing people’s smiles, as they create cards, decorations, games, gifts, and useful household items like draft stoppers made from the legs of old trousers.  Because there isn’t a lot of money to buy things like stuffing, Yoko has tried different materials to fill the draft stoppers, including old holey socks and unwanted plastic bags.  She and the other volunteers make kits for activities such as paper-making, dream catchers, card making and origami, using only recycled materials.  She accomplishes all this while being only partially sighted – an injury when she was one year old reduced the sight in one of her eyes to almost nothing.

Yoko also enjoys working with like-minded people.  Several other volunteers now join her on the third Saturday of each month, bringing new skills such as sewing and origami.  This year the club received some funding from the ENM Environmental Initiatives Fund.  This not only allows her to give something back to her volunteer helpers, in the form of petrol vouchers, but it has boosted everybody’s morale, making them feel valued by their community.


Upcycling Club 1 workshops are free, and are held at Te Manawa on the third Saturday of each month, 1-3 pm. Some have themes, such as Halloween and Christmas.  All ages are welcome; children under 14 need to be accompanied by an adult. Yoko would like to expand her group of volunteers, adding more options for workshop participants.  She wonders if there are other community groups that she could collaborate with.  If you’re interested, email her on upcyclingclub1@gmail.com.