Wingham Men’s Shed, Shoulder to Shoulder

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Interview with President Paul Austin.

How did the concept of the Men’s Shed originate?

Men’s Sheds have developed quite spontaneously in many different areas of Australia. One of the earliest sheds was the Lane Cove Community Shed in 1998. The concept spread rapidly, with approximately 100 sheds existing in Australia now. Sheds exist in many overseas countries as well.

The slogan for Men’s Sheds is “Shoulder to shoulder”, shortened from the concept that “Men don’t talk face to face; they talk shoulder to shoulder.” The Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) was established in 2007 to represent, support and promote the Men’s Shed movement. It receives funding from the Federal Government to provide initial and ongoing support to all Men’s Sheds.

The Wingham Men’s Shed was established by the Rotary Club of Wingham in 2009. The driving force behind its formation was long time Rotarian Bill Freeman, with much voluntary assistance from local builder Marshall Meaker and several local tradesmen and businesses.

What are the aims of the Men’s Shed?

The aim is to provide a forum and physical location where members can regularly assemble to share skills, make friends and network with other members, with the primary purpose of supporting and enhancing their personal wellbeing and health. The modern Men’s Shed is an updated and larger version of the backyard shed, which has long been a part of the Australian culture.

The Men’s Shed is more than doing something with your hands. What are some of the health and wellbeing benefits?

Most men have learned from our culture not to talk about feelings and emotions and as a result can suffer from isolation, loneliness and depression. Being a member of a group of other males can provide an environment where they may be able to communicate in an atmosphere of old fashioned mateship. Many men don’t learn to communicate well about their emotions, which means they don’t ask for help. Also, the shed can be valuable in overcoming isolation for men who live out of town and for providing an escape from domestic routine.

You have some creative members. Tell us about their hidden talents.

The shed membership consists of men from many walks of life, all of whom possess some degree of skill in various areas. We have retired tradesmen, motor mechanics, painters, fitter and machinists, steel workers, as well as men from professional areas such as law, accounting and teaching. All are only too willing to learn and pass on their skills to one another. You don’t necessarily need to have any particular skills in woodwork or metalwork – just come along for the companionship.

What are some of the skills that men can learn?

The main areas of activity in the Wingham shed are woodwork and metalwork. The shed is equipped with a large array of modern woodworking machinery, which the men can use for joinery, woodturning, model making, toy making, log milling, spraying and painting, just to name a few. The shed was fortunate to have a retired cabinet maker as a member in our earlier years, and Don Forbes was able to teach us many skills which are being used and passed on today. 

Our metalwork section activities include welding, milling, metal cutting and engineering, fitting and turning, etc. We are well equipped with tools and machinery in these areas.

You do a lot for the local community. What are some of the projects you’ve done?

Over our nine years of operation, the shed has assisted with many projects in the local community. We have been happy to assist with such things as projects for the showground in which we are located; tables, chairs and playground equipment for the Wingham Community Preschool; garden beds and boxes for the local hospital and C.A.D.E. unit; sandpit, outside library and benches for St Joseph’s Primary School; and garden beds and fowl pen for the Wingham High School. These are just a few examples of what we have done in the community over the last nine years. We are always happy to help out if we can.

You sell some of the things made. What type of things can we purchase?

While we are a not-for-profit organisation, we do need to have income to allow us to operate. A showroom at the front of the shed displays numerous and varied items which can be purchased. Some examples of  what you will find includes children’s chairs and tables, stools, lazy Susans, wood turning products, spice racks, assorted tables, cupboards, decorative wishing wells, bird boxes and children’s toys. As well, we will consider taking on jobs made to order.

How can people assist and donate to the Men’s Shed?

We are always looking for donations of timber (such as Cedar and Camphor Laurel), small logs to mill, metal scrap and certain tools. Some furniture items which can be restored and sold are also welcome.

We have received various grants, both government and private, since our inception and are always on the lookout for financial assistance.

We are always looking for showroom space and have occasionally occupied vacant shop windows. We are grateful to Machin’s Sawmill for their regular donation of hardwood offcuts. Timber is also sourced and recycled from pallets supplied by local businesses.

The general public is invited to visit our showroom to see what can be purchased.

Are there any future plans and projects coming up for the shed?

Extensions to our building have been our main projects over the years; however, any further extensions to the shed are restricted by the boundaries of our site. We constantly need to upgrade and maintain our machinery and tools. Probably our main project at the moment is to expand our solar panel array on the roof. Electricity is our major expense, and this is where our efforts are directed at the moment. 

How can men become a member?

We are located at the Wingham Showgrounds via the Skinner Street entrance. We are open on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8:30am to 2:30pm. 

Our contact phone number is – 6553 0934 and email address – info@winghammensshed.com.au

New members are welcome. Annual membership fee is $35 (which includes insurance cover) and $2 per day for tea/coffee.

Thanks Paul.

Interview: Bronwyn Davis.

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