Don't sit there and vegetate - join a friendship club. That's the message from Trevor Swindells who is passionate about the benefits of membership for the Bay's retirees.

''We want to encourage people to get off their backsides,'' Swindells said.

He heads the Papamoa Palms Friendship Club - one of the seven Tauranga-based clubs dedicated to getting older people out and about.

Swindells, an English innkeeper who went on to carve out a career in financial consultancy, said the clubs prided themselves on friendship.

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He thought the name friendship was much better in expressing the spirit of getting people into active retirement than the clubs' former name of Probus.

''All too often when people reach retirement they ask, what am I doing now, and all day and every day they do nothing - just vegetate,'' Swindells said.

''It's hard to get some people out, even although they have all the time in the world.''

This was where friendship clubs played such an important role in motivating the over-65s.

Instead of decision making becoming a problem through inaction, retirees could join clubs that prided themselves on friendship, he said.

''This is the basis of their monthly meetings, organising events and recalling the good times.''

An unofficial umbrella group was evolving because some activities needed more people than could be filled by one club.

For example, they wanted to fill a 50-seater coach to the Sister Act show in Hamilton. Another getaway for an affordable $165 covered the cost of a coach, admission to the show Chicago in Auckland and then dinner on the way home at the Waihi RSA.

''A dozen of us are going to see Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit this week, with tenpin bowling in a couple of weeks time.''

There were ''cheap and cheerful lunches'' where clubs did a deal with a cafe to provide a delicious lunch at a special price.

Three weeks ago Swindells joined Friendship club members on Rotorua's Redwoods Skywalk followed by a meal at the Fat Dog Cafe.

He said everyone kept to themselves under the old Probus system but now there was a lot of interclub activities. ''We can fill buses and do different things.''

The latest initiative being put out to members to consider was a four-day voyage around New Zealand aboard a cruise ship costing $600 to $800.

''Train trips to Wellington, cruises to Australia and the Pacific Islands and further afield were all possibilities.''

Looking at the future of friendship clubs, Swindells said they were only as good as their committees, and therein lay the challenge. They were also trying to attract younger retirees.

The fundamental reasons for friendship clubs were to make new friends, enjoy the camaraderie of the group and listen to interesting guest speakers. Special interest activities included walking, travel, mah jong, crafts and mystery excursions. Everything was not-for-profit and membership costs were minimal, he said.

''Lives are extending far beyond the three score years and 10 that we talked about years ago. You have to think 25 years or more [past age 65],'' Swindells said.

Western Bay Friendship Clubs' contacts
Arataki: Maria 574-3632
Mount Mens: Alan 544-7362
Mount Phoenix: Judy 574-2065
Mount Marlin: Helen 572-2993
Tauranga Vision: Lynne 578-4241
Papamoa Palms: Trevor 574-6459
Tauranga Diamond: Ann 552-6327
Te Puke: Barbara 573-4398
Waihī: Shirley 07-863-4574