Mates4Life Hawke's Bay

April 2023

A programme supporting workmates in a suicide-aware community.

It is a sensitive topic, but one that too many sectors within our primary industries have been grappling with for too many years — the high rate of suicide. 


In Hawke’s Bay, there is a growing awareness of the role that businesses can play in suicide prevention. As a result, a programme called Mates4Life has been set up, with a strong prevention message, and the objective of creating a sustainable, long-term programme to support a suicide-aware community. It has been designed for the whole of the Hawke’s Bay, but primary industries are a major focus and are a critical pathway for enabling the initiative.

Mates4Life was backed by the Tumu Group, and supported and endorsed by Kerry Gilbert, Hawke’s Bay DHB Suicide Prevention Coordinator. The programme was publicly launched in October 2021. Prior to the official launch, were two years of hard mahi, followed by pilot programmes run at Bostock New Zealand and the Tumu Group. 


The idea was to make it easy and commonplace for anyone to seek help, from their work mates, or the community. The model has been designed so that once a business signs up, all employees attend an Awareness Talk, which could be presented in a packhouse, shearing shed or office. Staff are encouraged to become designated Connectors or Safety Aiders. These people receive in-depth training on how to support and help their colleagues, friends and whānau in times of distress.


This approach was inspired by Auckland-based A-OK NZ, a suicide prevention programme provider, using programmes from the Australian National Suicide Prevention Office. The Mates4Life programme was adapted by those working in the Hawke’s Bay region to have a unique flavour, ‘created and delivered by Hawke’s Bay people for Hawke’s Bay people’. Their whakatauki is: Ēhara tāku toa i te toa takatahi, engari he toa takitini. (Our strength is not made from us alone but made from many.)


Since the official launch Mates4Life have delivered the Awareness Talk to over 1300 people.  This has been delivered by their team of facilitators who come with passion and aroha for this Kaupapa, their training is extensive to ensure quality delivery and above all, safety.


MPI has funded the Trust $180,000 from the Complementary Services Fund over two years. They’ve also received funding from MSD and other local funders. As a result, the programme is able to be delivered at no cost to workplaces and organisations across Hawke’s Bay.


The programme has been recognised locally and Mates4Life was a finalist in the Chamber of Commerce Business Awards 2022. Bronnie Coory is a founding member and programme coordinator of Mates4Life Hawke’s Bay. She was one of eight people throughout New Zealand to receive the National Lifekeepers award in 2022, in recognition of her contribution to suicide prevention in the community.   


Bronnie believes that - by giving staff the courage and tools to ask if someone is “okay”, and not necessarily taking “I’m fine” as an answer – people can be given the confidence to sit alongside their workmates, listen to them, and if necessary for those who are in distress, to gather the internal and external supports that are needed. She adds that upskilling people at work and within organisations helps ensure that people can carry this knowledge with them outside of the workplace to share with their friends, whanau, and communities. “One of our goals is to have life-supporting communities and we believe Mates4Life can help assist this.”


The large locally owned employer, Tumu Group, was an early backer of the programme.


James Truman is general manager of Tumu Timbers and the chair of Mates of Hawke’s Bay Charitable Trust. He says, “I have been a supporter of suicide prevention for a number of years now with the catalyst being the shock loss of an employee to suicide. This really opened our eyes to the issue and from that point we went about ensuring everyone at Tumu had the opportunity to gain suicide awareness and prevention skills. 


“At a point along this journey, the programme that we were offering to our people was discontinued and this prompted Bronnie and Kerry to create a programme of our own for Hawke’s Bay.  I joined these wonderful ladies a few months later with the aim of providing leadership and direction and some three years later here we are with an ever-popular, barrier-free programme that is achieving some great results for our region. The key here is that there is no barrier to receiving this training, it is free of charge and available to businesses and organisations of any size.


“The feedback from local business has been very positive and of the many businesses that have now received training I know a few of the business owners well – I can trust that their feedback is honest and genuine – if it wasn’t a good programme, they would certainly tell me.

“Mates4Life seems to be going from strength to strength with arguably the main issue being keeping up with the demand for our training.  We have got a highly capable, passionate, and dedicated group of people organizing and delivering this highly needed programme and this is encouraging for making a significant difference in the area of suicide prevention in our wonderful region.” 


Tyson Ataera is the Kaiwhakahaere Lead Facilitator for Mates4Life. He says, ‘many people have jobs, but I believe this was a calling on my life. I live by two rules: to Love God, and Love people, so what better way to do this then in this mahi? The impacts this programme has had on my life is huge, empowering me to be able to recognise the signs earlier, but also know how to successfully navigate a conversation providing hope for a person in need.’


Tyson adds, there are many stressors in life - from illness, relationship problems, or financial pressures from inflation costs. The signs we often see in people tend to be noticeable changes in behaviour - either becoming withdrawn, isolated, or changed in their speech. 


“Mates4Life, especially our Safety Aider programme, is having a huge impact in the businesses we have trained. We are getting emails and phone calls thanking the team for the tools from the workshop that have empowered their teams to navigate difficult conversations to keep people safe from their thoughts of suicide. And if it’s making this much impact in a business, that’s a huge win for the community.”


The programme is designed in four parts: Aroā/Awareness, Tūhono/Connector, Kaiawhina Haumaru/Safety Aider, and Kaiwhanake/Grower Training. 


The aim is to have different percentages of each group operational within an organisation, with a 100% target for Aroā Awareness, 20% of those in a workplace acting as Tūhono, Connector, and 10% of staff as Kaiawhina Haumaru Safety Aiders. The Kaiwhanake/ Grower Training is delivered to HR/H&S/Managers. 


Further information is available on the Mates4Life website:


Other links and important numbers:

2022 LifeKeepers Awards | LifeKeepers

Case study: Mates4Life initiative in the Hawke’s Bay (