Women’s Shed building a foundation of empower tools

Michael Weaver 9 October 2020
Robby McGarvey, left, and Sunita Kotnala, right.

Robby McGarvey, left, and Sunita Kotnala, right, have set up Canberra’s first Women’s Shed. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Opening their first box of business cards was a moment akin to building the foundations of Canberra’s first Women’s Shed, which had its inaugural meeting of likeminded women on Saturday, 26 September.

Women’s Shed Canberra founder and president Sunita Kotnala and vice-president and co-founder Robby McGarvey have built the foundations for a women’s group that saw 17 members attend in its first week and Sunita fielding new enquiries by the hour.

After linking with prominent men’s shedder Jim Thornton, they hammered out the details to build a group that now meets each Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm at Thor’s Hammer in Griffith. They have also been gifted office space for what they call “the engine room of luxury” at East Hotel in Kingston, as well as space for mental health workshops at the Jerrabomberra Wetlands Education Centre.

While lifting the lid on their logo and business card, Sunita and Robby tell Region Media that Women’s Shed Canberra is all about helping women improve their handywomen skills.

“We’ve had Bunnings promise us a sausage sizzle fundraiser, Total Tools donate more than 200 tools, as well as access to more tools from The Green Shed at Mitchell and Mugga Lane,” says Sunita.

“Lend Lease has given us PPE [personal protective equipment] and United Workers Union offered us full use of printing and photocopying facilities to help get set up.”

“We’ve had so much support; it’s just been amazing,” says Robby. “We kind of wish we had done this sooner, but it’s happened at a time when we really need to bring people together.”

Robby McGarvey, left, Sunita Kotnala, right.

Robby McGarvey, left, and Sunita Kotnala, right, are vice-president and president respectively of Canberra’s first Women’s Shed. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Sunita says they haven’t looked back after walking into the Thor’s Hammer furniture making premises unannounced, armed with nothing more than the conviction of wanting to start a Women’s Shed in Canberra.

Sunita has a background in counselling and social work, while Robby recently finished a 25-year career in early childhood with 11 years at Manuka Childcare Centre. They have always been looking for a way to empower women with more than just power tools and hammers.

“We are really inspired by the Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen (SALT) program in Quakers Hill in Sydney,” says Sunita. “I attended a tools workshop there so our shed will also look at building competencies with tools because most women have said to us that their fathers or grandfathers were the handyman, but they never taught us how to use the tools.

“My daughter said she wanted to install a floating shelf, but didn’t know how to do it.”

Robby says the group is for women aged 18 years and over, and will also build social connections that have been broken during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has really given women the time to think about the skills they would like to pursue, or perhaps missed out on while they were growing up,” she says. “It’s not just for retired women – we’re looking at bridging intergenerational gaps through mentoring and mental health workshops.

“We see this as a springboard to quite a number of initiatives for women in the ACT so we’re really excited about the prospects.”

Sunita says she has been looking for ways to restore a set of doors made in 1934 that she obtained from a building site. Robby is building more of the community connections, where they have collaborated with the Kingston-Barton Residents’ Group on a number of projects such as removing graffiti at Highgate Lane in Kingston and planting tulips in the Kingston area as part of Floriade Reimagined.

“We are looking for some funding to hold more comprehensive workshops and are hoping we might have some partnership with institutions such as TAFE,” says Sunita.

“The world is our oyster right now and the challenge is to keep our focus because we have received so much support.”

Robby says the building blocks of the Women’s Shed is that all women in the ACT are stronger together.

“We believe that one woman who is supported, strengthened and empowered can do wonders for herself, her partner, her family and her community.”

For further information, email info@womensshedcanberra.com.au.


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