OK I admit it, I’ve got shed envy! I’ve now been to the Blackheath Area Men’s Shed four times and each time I’ve found it more difficult to leave than the last.
I’m not sure what I envy the most … the beautiful, neatly organised walls of tools and various workshops with projects underway … like the second time I came and everyone was working together to help assemble a flow hive; or this last time when they were experimenting with framing old tiles using recycled wooden fence palings …
Or is it the wood fire, and the home made bread and cake being consumed with conversation around the crowded dining table …
Or is it the fact that each time I’ve visited I’ve left feeling lighter of spirit with an enormous smile on my face, chuckling at the jokes that follow me out the door! These guys have the most fabulous sense of humour, and laughter is an ongoing part of the music being made in a place that’s full of hammering, sawing, drilling …. and the sound of the relaxed camaraderie of people who clearly enjoy each other’s company.
This place is nirvana for someone like me, who loves to focus on fixing things … but each time I leave it feels as though the magic of the Men’s Shed is fixing a little something in me too. Like today, when I arrived stressed and frazzled, and left grinning from ear to ear.
When I visited last week I spoke to the inspiring Peter McNeill, who acknowledges “this is a very, very happy Shed. Extremely so!” He explained that the Shed grew from a public meeting in the hall, initiated by Tony Jaques. Early on they were fortunate to be offered an empty house at 8 Bundarra St by the Baptist Church. Peter was invited to be part of the steering committee and helped set up the Board which now runs the Shed as a social enterprise – a cross between a small business and a community service. It officially opened in 2012 and will be celebrating its fourth birthday on the 29 October – making it one of over 930 sheds that have sprung up around the country since the first national health conference dedicated to men in Australia held in 1995.
Originally designed as a solution to counter men’s isolation, depression and ill health, studies have shown that Men’s Sheds are helping to increase the length and quality of life of elderly males. The movement’s motto is “men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder”. Spend even a small amount of time at B.A.M.S. and you’ll see this is true. Some men, though, enjoy the talking part the most and aren’t really interested in working with the tools!
I asked Peter, whose background was in finance and business management, what he loves most about the Shed. “I love talking with the men. They have all sorts of backgrounds and they bring that into their discussions. I originally wanted to learn to do things with my hands … 3 ½ years later I still haven’t got there … but one day I’d love to know how to repair a chair! I do love to see things happening and watch how to do things, and I love being part of something that’s building, that’s growing, that has a future ahead of it … something that will keep going when I can no longer be part of it.”
It’s clear that these men welcome anyone who sticks their head in the door, and that it’s OK to just come and observe what’s happening and have a cuppa.
Peter points out that the Shed is reliant on community grants, but that it also earns money from jobs done for community members who bring things in to be repaired or built for a ‘reasonable donation’. Shed members have also built garden seats and storage for BOOSH, and provided assistance to Rotary, the Rhododendron Festival, and the Horticultural Society.
Lis Bastian is a Blackheath writer, educator and founding member of The Big Fix.
Photo by Graham McCarter
B.A.M.S. is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9.30am to 3pm.
For more information visit their website here.