Since 2014, the Belconnen Men’s Shed has been providing a platform for men in the local community to improve their mental health through social and collaborative projects.
Although recent COVID restrictions have halted many community outreach programs across the ACT, the opposite is true for the Men’s Shed. Renewed membership interest and a recent funding boost means the shed has grown faster than ever.
Gordon Cooper, Belconnen Shed President and the first of its members to be awarded life membership of the Australian Men’s Shed Association, said the shed has welcomed about 15 new members since Canberra’s last lockdown.
“We have had consistent interest over the past year, mainly due to increasing feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety as a result of COVID restrictions, although some members are simply looking for something to keep them engaged during retirement,” he said.
“It’s really encouraging knowing that people feel comfortable approaching the shed when they’re feeling down.”
The shed members, or “shedders” as they are known, are also celebrating their latest funding success after being awarded a grant from the IMB Bank Community Foundation. Since 1999, the Foundation has provided more than $11 million in grants to more than 800 community groups and projects across the ACT, NSW and Melbourne.
Mr Cooper expressed his sincere gratitude to IMB for their generous assistance.
“The funds have enabled us to do twice as much work as we originally anticipated,” he said.
“We were able to remove 60 square metres of pavers at the back of the shed and replace them with a concrete slab, which makes moving equipment and projects around significantly safer and easier for our members.”
In addition, the shedders have been able to add purpose-built steel tables and benches to their workspace.
“The support from our sponsors, government and the community has been absolutely phenomenal,” Mr Cooper said.
“Any time the shed receives funding, we do our best to double it and return as much to the community as possible, by undertaking projects in nursing homes or special education schools, for example.”
One of the most meaningful projects that shed members undertook was creating over a thousand small wooden tokens including crucifixes and doves for local chaplains. The tokens were blessed and passed on to terminally ill patients in hospitals around Canberra.
“Being involved in the process of making something that goes on to be so valuable to another person or group gives our members a great sense of purpose,” Mr Cooper said.
The shed offers a wide variety of activities – projects often involve skills like woodwork, plastic work, welding, electronics, leatherwork, and lead-lighting. For those new to the shed, a training program and formal accreditation process is offered, with no prior experience required.
Mr Cooper said the shed had many success stories.
“One member told me he had connected with more men in two hours in the shed than in his entire seven years working in the ACT,” he said.
“Any time a man has the courage to come into the shed and be honest and vulnerable in front of a group of complete strangers, that is a success story.”
Applications for 2022 IMB Bank Community Foundation grants open on 2 May for not-for-profit groups and projects via www.imb.com.au/community.
The Belconnen Men’s Shed is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 am to 12 pm, and Thursdays from 9:30 am to 12 pm. For more information on how to join, head to their website.