The Coffs Harbour Men’s Shed is a great place for local men to meet, make new friends, build things and access a great support network. FOCUS chats to the Shed’s manager, Peter Murphy, to find out more about the organisation.
Tell us about how The Coffs Harbour Men’s Shed came to fruition.
It officially opened in February 2010. Some key members in Rotary identified Men’s Shed as a movement and something that we needed in this community. Ultimately, what they needed to get started was for a shed to be donated, so when John Mandle, CEO of CHESS Employment at the time and also an ex-Rotarian, heard of what they wanted to do, he tapped into some funds through CHESS and provided a shed to get it started. So CHESS provided the shed and hired me as a manager to set it up, then Rotary came in and built our offices and got all the materials donated, including paint, carpet, tools, timber, etc.
From their membership base, they then looked for people who could be mentors and help others on the floor, and it all went from there. Since then, lots of businesses have come on board and donated things, to the point that everything on our floor has been donated.
There’s a lot of people that would be a little bit naive as to what a Men’s Shed actually is … give us some insight?
It’s very broad, and it’s hard to give just one single statement as to what a Men’s Shed is. Basically, it’s a place for men to meet, have fun and build things.
There’s a strong focus on men’s health, particularly mental health, and the Shed can provide a meeting place and a support network for men who come along. The Men’s Shed gives guys an opportunity to engage in constructive activity and contribute to others and the community, share their knowledge and experience and learn from others, meet in a social, non-threatening environment, benefit from mutual support and overcome isolation.
In our particular shed, the focus is woodworking, and we’ve got a range of skills from people who aren’t woodworkers at all, to people who are very good at it.
They all come in to this melting pot, and everyone gets something a bit different out of it. There are some guys who are here just to meet people, because they’re new to the area, and it’s a way to meet other blokes. This is an excuse for them to say they’re going to the shed to work, when they’re really going to make some friends.
We’ve noticed that you do a lot of work with disability groups …
Well, because CHESS auspice the Shed and put a huge contribution into getting this going, part of their charter is getting people with disabilities work. So, they want to encourage people with disabilities to come to the shed, because it fits with our ethos and satisfies the board at CHESS. We have a variety of local disability groups who come along, but if someone with a disability wants to come in, they need to have a support worker with them – because we don’t have the staff to supervise them the whole time.
But you are by no means just a disability service?
Not at all. A lot of the comment that we’ve had is that the Men’s Shed is a place where people with problems and/or a disability go, and that’s not the case at all. We are here for able bodied people, but we do encourage people with disabilities to come along.
There’s no eligibility requirements – people of any age and any ability can come along and join us. If there are kids under 20 years old, we do assess them individually to see if they’re mature and responsible enough to work on the floor and operate the machinery themselves.
What’s your membership base like?
They’re all volunteers and are coming here for different reasons. We’ve got a membership base of about 180 men, and we average roughly 22-24 people in here a day, which adds up to a lot of people using the shed. There’s no membership fee, but we do have a gold coin donation for each day of participation.
How often are you open?
We open 3 days a week at this stage: Wednesday to Friday, from 8.30am to 3.30pm.
You’re at a cross roads now in terms of funding and keeping the premises after your lease runs out in March. What’s next?
Rotary and CHESS were a part of the plan to start up the Men’s Shed. We’re past the setup stage now, and these two organisations don’t want to fund us forever. We’ve got costs and we need to cover them, so we’re looking for broader support and for someone else to come along and realise that it’s a worthwhile cause that they can help out with.
Funding has been a real stumbling block for us, because government funding tends to focus on a new project, and we’re an existing project doing something successfully. Plus, it’s hard to get funding for rent and additions to the shed, because it’s owned by a private entity. We’ve negotiated with the shed owner to continue month by month until something else comes up.
In the meantime, we’re looking at all avenues – in particular putting pressure on the Federal and State Governments and the local Council to give us some funding to keep us going. After all, we support community groups, we make things for the community and the community uses the Men’s Shed, so we feel there is a responsibility for Council to support us – but up to this point, they’ve been unable to.
Council have set aside some land, but it’s subject to lots of factors; things are a little way off, and we’ve got to survive in the short term.
If anyone can help you with some financial sponsorship, what’s the best way to do that?
It would be great if some local businesses could jump on board and help us out. If they’re able to, they can call me on 6652 5420.
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