By Brendan Rees
After a tumultuous year, Melbourne’s CBD “shedders” are glad to be back on the tools and enjoying some comradery.
The Melbourne Men’s Shed has been a hive of activity after the pandemic forced the shed’s closure last year.
“To them, it’s a joy, you can see it in their faces, and for me, that’s all I want from the guys. I feel like I’ve achieved something,” shed chairman Andrew Stefanetti said of the volunteers.
“A lot of them come from not just the CBD; they come from all over Melbourne. It’s the only shed in the world which is located in the CBD of any city.”
The Melbourne Men’s Shed is one of many local groups that exists because of the generosity of members – and their contributions were recognised when volunteers were celebrated during National Volunteer Week from May 17 to 23.
Mr Stefanetti, 75, said he was proud to lead his team.
“We make access for anyone to come to our shed. They love coming here,” he said.
He said the shed had been reopening “bit by bit” with members gradually resuming their projects since December.
“Some of our activities and all the things that we were doing nearly 18 months ago we had to put a hold on and now we’re going back again,” he said.
However, he said one of the challenges was supporting members whose mental health had suffered after experiencing loneliness or isolation during last year’s lockdown.
“The problem is not opening, it’s the people that come there. I’ve got to make sure they’re all physically and mentally in the same place,” he said.
“When they came back a lot of them went down the slippery slope. Now we’ve got to get it back again.”
He said it was vital they looked after each other and spoke openly about their feelings.
“We’ve got a day’s session where we turn around and talk around the table, and we get everyone to open up.”
But Mr Stefanetti understood the limitations of his role. “As a leader, I’ve got to say, ‘Am I doing the right thing by them or am I doing the wrong?’ They ask me for guidance and I can say I can only guide you and can’t tell you,” he said.
In the meantime, he was happy to see people come from far and wide to share stories, saying the group was more than just a Men’s Shed.
“I put it down to a community centre that helps out,” he said.
From weekly walks around the city to cooking classes (which are currently on hold because of social distancing), group chats, woodwork projects and more, Mr Stefanetti said there was something for everyone.
He said the shed was also an opportunity for people of all ages, genders and abilities to share others’ company and connect over a cuppa.
He said the shed had about 85 members and was “growing”, but because of its COVID-safe plan, they were limited to 15 people indoors.
“It’s an open club, open house in a sense. We learn from each other, we do things, we fix things, we give advice.”
Since its inception in 2013, the shed has given members a sense of belonging – with people coming from all walks of life and not always with a background in carpentry.
“It’s the atmosphere when you walk into the place that makes it a place,” Mr Stefanetti said.
He said the men were currently revitalising some old bedside tables donated by a Melbourne hotel at the start of the year.
“They said, ‘We’re upgrading all our rooms; we’ve got a lot of furniture here if you’d like to pick it up and do whatever you want with it’,” he said.
When he visited staff members, Mr Stefanetti said he was impressed to discover the furniture was solid timber.
“We revitalise them, paint them, fix them, and put them together for the guys to do something. They can sell them or take them home themselves.”
The group also has a collection of handmade wooden toys from last year that are ready to be donated to the Royal Children’s Hospital. But sadly, delivery has been postponed because of the pandemic.
In other projects, members have been making possum boxes for Wildlife Victoria, while also opening its doors to the Parkville Men’s Shed to spend time in their workshop with their first excursion taking place on May 4, which was hailed a “roaring success”.
The Parkville Men’s Shed, which was launched by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre earlier this year, is the first shed at a Victorian hospital to offer support and social activities to patients.
Patients from Peter Mac have also been visiting Melbourne’s Men’s Shed once a week to escape and enjoy the members’ company.
Mr Stefanetti said he hoped the City of Melbourne and the state government continued to support their shed through funding, maintaining that it was “not just old men retired going there for a cup of coffee”.
He said new members were always welcome, with benefits including enhanced self-esteem and improved wellbeing •
For more information: melbournemensshed.org