Parishes, schools and agencies

Belgrave men's shed builds links with community

By Emma Halgren

June 17 2016
Chris Vincent and the Revd Lachlan Thompson at Belgrave Men's Shed.

On any given Wednesday or Saturday morning, in a quiet bushland corner of Belgrave, you can find a group of men woodworking, sawing and welding their way through projects large and small. The Belgrave Men’s Shed, an initiative of All Saints Selby, opened in 2012 in a small building in Selby, and relocated to new, larger premises in Belgrave in 2015. It has 17 paid-up members, with the youngest in his late 20s, and other men drop in from time to time. The shed is open on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

All Saints Selby parishioner and shed secretary John Podger said that the Belgrave shed had embedded itself firmly within the local community, hosting “Build a Billy Cart” days at the Selby Festival, local libraries and Scout groups. Local organisations and community groups regularly donate tools and materials to the shed.

The morning TMA visited, former fitter and turner Chris Vincent was working with Lachlan Thompson to restore three rocking chairs. The shed is donating two of these to Narre Warren Primary School to give away as prizes at an upcoming fundraising event, and the other is being given to a recently-arrived family from Nigeria.

Other recent work has included station signs for Puffing Billy and Emerald Station, display boards for a local school, wrought iron work for All Saints Selby, and restoring benches for a local community nursery. The Belgrave Men’s Shed is now the preferred supplier of bird nesting boxes for Yarra Ranges Council.

The men are paid for their work, which helps to cover rent, insurance, Australian Men’s Shed Association membership and other costs.

There are more than 900 men’s sheds across Australia. John Podger said that one of the wonderful things about men’s sheds was that each one was different, with a unique set of people and skills coming together.

“Each one has its own imagination,” he said.

Shed president Jim Warmington said that in addition to producing goods needed by local community groups, men’s sheds played an important role in reducing social isolation.

“They’re a chance for men to get out of the house and meet other men, and to keep their minds active,” he said.

The Revd Lachlan Thompson, founding president and community liaison officer for the shed, said that men could often be hesitant to discuss personal issues, including health issues.

“Men tend to keep things, especially health issues, to themselves – they internalise them, rather than going and discussing it with someone,” he said. “Even doctors can struggle to get it out of them.”

He said the simple act of creating a friendly environment, where people could meet a few times a week, work on projects, and pause now and then to chat over a cup of tea or coffee, helped to break down those barriers.

“It’s amazing what people will share that they might not share with anyone else,” he said. “Being able to have that kind of quiet conversation is really important because you can feel incredibly alone otherwise. At the men’s shed you’re a bit removed, you can have a conversation that will stay within the shed and with the person you confide in. It’s a nice environment in that respect.”

Vice-president Dave Ashton said that getting involved in a men’s shed could often give men back the spark they needed to get involved in other clubs and activities as well.

“When you retire you can get into depression and you don’t even realise it,” he said. “A lot of older guys find they lose their contacts from work, they may not know their neighbours any more, and because it’s so gradual you don’t always realise how insular you’ve become. You see less and less and do less and less, and suddenly you’re doing nothing.

“When they come along to the men’s shed, they laugh and joke and have a coffee and work on a project, and suddenly it gives them that momentum.”

Lachlan Thompson said the men’s shed was a great way for All Saints Selby to connect with the local community.

“The church’s mission is to be outward-looking and be relevant to the community,” he said. “We’ve actually had men who’ve stopped going to church for years turning up and going to All Saints as a result of the men’s shed – it’s not that we proselytise, but it’s given them confidence to go back.”