Des Redican wakes up every weekday morning at 5.30am and loads up his car with handmade wooden toys.
The retired chippie from Upper Hutt drives three kilometres down the road and parks outside Doris Nicholson Kindergarten to set up shop – a ritual he’s repeated for two years.
Des the Toy Man can go weeks without selling a single toy, but that doesn’t bother him. It’s his way of beating loneliness and social isolation.
“My wife died four years ago and the house is a lonely place by myself, so I come here for the company.”
Children, parents and staff all know him by name and greet him during his morning drop-off. Commuters and schoolkids give him a toot or a wave as they pass.
“Everyone’s great. I’d be completely lost without my morning routine. It’s the reason I get out of bed.”
Redican turned 90 on Wednesday and his friends at the kindergarten threw him a morning tea to celebrate.
Jane Hutchinson, acting head teacher at Doris Nicholson Kindergarten, said Redican had become part of their community.
Although Redican kept in regular contact with his own children and dropped into the local Cosmopolitan Club once a week, he credited the kindy visits with keeping his mind and body ticking along.
According to Age Concern New Zealand, Redican’s situation is not unique.
An Otago University study published in the Australasian Journal on Aging in March showed one in five people aged 82 and over reported having feelings of loneliness.
Those who live alone were more at risk, with 29 per cent of the 72,000 elderly surveyed having experienced loneliness compared to 14 per cent of those in a shared living situation.