Men’s Sheds across the state are taking this week to celebrate ‘shedders’ for Men’s Shed Week.
To be celebrated from 28 September to 3 October, Men’s Shed Week aims to highlight the vital role Men’s Sheds play in so many lives.
The Akoonah Park Men’s Shed is a prime example of community spirit, involvement and support.
The Berwick shed values the role that Men’s Sheds play in the prevention of social isolation by providing a safe, friendly and welcoming place for men to work on meaningful projects and to contribute to the wider community.
“Our Men’s Shed is a place for men to come together to share their skills and experiences,” Akoonah Park Men’s Shed member Ian McKenzie said.
“It’s a place of creativity, of teamwork, and for celebrating community spirit.
“It a place to build on the health and wellbeing of members. Communication is big in the shed – men talking to other men about issues concerning them.”
Established eight years ago, in 2012, the shed was opened by a retired mayor of Berwick who has since passed away.
The initial meeting was held in a broken down steel shed that was offered to the group by the Akoonah Park management committee, but it was well overdue for a makeover.
Around 25 men attended the first meeting back in May 2012 and to this day, many are still members of the shed.
“It’s more than just a ‘shed’ – we meet new friends, relate our experiences, mostly with a laugh, sometimes with compassion for someone going through a hard time, but always leave feeling better than when we came as there is always someone available to talk with,” Mr McKenzie added.
Over the first few months, the group received several pieces of donated furniture and tools.
“From that point, we started to renovate the shed to a reasonable standard,” Akoonah Park Men’s Shed member Ray Flynn recalled.
“A few years ago, the park management, on our request, built an extension and we also received a grant from the City of Casey Council.
“The membership grew very well over the years and today we have 164 financial members.”
Pre-covid times, the shed is open six days a week from about 9am to 1pm.
Most Thursdays, more than 60 members attend a social day where they enjoy a barbecue, or a special hot meal once a month.
Akoonah Park Men’s Shed caters to all types of men and has a plethora of clubs and hobbies, including fishing, caravanning, snooker, music, model trains, wood turning, war games, cycling, fitness, photography and more.
“We are inclusive and so make very welcome member’s partners and women from the community who may be interested in some of our activities,” Mr McKenzie said.
“We are literally a shed in the community, of the community and for the community.
“We also have a beautiful setting in Akoonah Park in Berwick.”
The shed is also involved in a number of community projects across the City of Casey and Cardinia Shire.
Some of the projects and events the Akoonah Park Men’s Shed has taken part in include the Berwick Relay for Life, the City of Casey’s Boomerang Bags and targeted health programs like Spanner in the Works and Men’s Health Week.
“We’re engaged in activities with local businesses, such as assembling barbecues and outdoor furniture for Bunnings Assisted local charities including refurbishing and painting of Pakenham and Berwick Op Shops,” Mr McKenzie listed.
“We’ve modified an off road trailer as a mobile camp kitchen for a Young Veterans RSL program and participated successfully in the Community Exercise Program, coming in as finalists.”
Internally, the shed has provided ongoing workshop facilities to allow members to practice existing skills or develop new skills.
Monthly meetings are held and occasional caravanning trips for members interested in RV activities are conducted.
For those interested in learning to play a musical instrument, weekly ‘jam sessions’ are held.
“We realise that Men’s Sheds traditionally attract an older generation, particularly those close to their retirement so to suit we offer a range of programs and activities,” Mr Flynn said.
“We’re keen to involve men who have particular skills and who’d gladly help teach others.
“We’re equally keen to have blokes involved who want to learn from others. Or maybe you just want to come over for a cuppa and a chat.”
While the Berwick shed is not focussed on any one specific demographic in the community, it is acknowledged that the current operations of the shed do attract a mainly older group of men who are mostly retired or nearing retirement.
“There are a number of older men in the Casey and Cardinia community who are facing issues associated with significant change including retirement, ageing, health, isolation, becoming a carer, disability, loss of a partner and separation,” he said.
“The shed provides the venue to share and discuss life experiences in a relaxed environment.”
As can be expected, the pandemic has taken its toll on the Akoonah Park Men’s Shed and its members.
The shed started 2020 in the usual way, with men turning up to participate in activities and projects, as well as enjoy one another’s company.
“With the arrival of Covid-19 in March things rapidly started to change as restrictions were imposed the shed management committee needed to act to protect the members of the shed and also to comply with the new regulations,” Mr McKenzie explained.
“In late March and early April there was an opportunity for a few small projects to take place in cleaning up the shed and renovating the metalworking area to fit in some additional machines and improve access.
“With most of the normal activities coming to an abrupt halt it was necessary for the committee to look for new ways to keep engaging with the shed membership.”
Weekly emails continued and a more comprehensive monthly newsletter was distributed.
In addition, some 10 members of the shed offered their phone numbers so that any person feeling the need for a conversation or having some form of difficulty could make contact and discuss them with a fellow shed member.
“The management committee also initiated process of telephoning each member to speak to them about their situation how they were feeling and to assure them that when things return to a more normal state the shed will be there for their enjoyment and participation,” he added.
More than 150 phone calls were made to members.
“While most things have ground to a halt, the shed is still operational in the sense of supporting the membership keeping in touch and making sure that our welfare group is contactable and available for any member that needs support or just talk to a mate,” he said.
“Like all in the community we are looking at the falling numbers of new infections and hopeful that the decline continues so we can recommence normal operations as soon as safe and preferably before Christmas.
“It is important for the community that the shed is open and operating in support of men’s health and providing some useful services to the community.”
For more information on the Akoonah Park Men’s Shed, or to join, contact president Maurice Hall on 0403 660 844 or visit their Facebook page AkoonahParkMensShed.