Step Inside Singleton Men’s Shed

Living in rural or regional areas can be tough for men – we know depression rates are higher and that staying connected to your community can be challenging, especially when you retire.

That’s where the Australian Men’s Shed Association comes in, and John Elliott, one of the founders of the Singleton Men’s Shed, says it draws men back into a place where they can connect with others, build friendships and work on projects that give back to the community.

I recently spoke to John about the Singleton Men’s Shed.

So John, how did the Men’s Shed start-up in Singleton, and what’s your role in it?

The idea actually came from a local bloke called Jack Francis who’s passed on now, but he had the idea of kicking one-off here and was one of the original members. We started the process in 2012 and initially I was appointed Vice President of the Shed, and I continued on in that role for about six years. In those years, we worked on gaining grants, sourcing equipment and creating the Shed Administration structure, to get the ball rolling and actually build our shed. We also looked at a lot of sites and we’re now in Combo Lane, which is an excellent piece of land that enabled us to build the structure we wanted. I’m now the liaison and shed publicity officer – while also executive-managing some of the shed events we organise and helping the public become more aware of what we do.

Are you guys part of the Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA)?

Yes, we’ve been members of AMSA since day one. And it’s with their guidance that a lot of the current protocols we established have been undertaken and adhered to, particularly during Covid-19. They’re a great organisation that does a wonderful job for Men’s Sheds.

Why is there a need for a Men’s Shed in our area?

A Men’s Shed is a way of encouraging men to come out and connect. Men of all ages are welcome, but we predominantly end up with more men from their late 50s to late 80s – older men who’ve retired, have time and are looking for a place to continue socialising. The Shed inadvertently becomes a support to them. Part of the reason why I love the Shed is that I see so many changes in men who do come to it. I’ve seen men battling many challenges and it’s heartening to see what fellas will actually discuss, when they need to, and when brought together. They may have lost their wife, lost a bit of identity or confidence since retiring. And they can come into the Shed, even just for a chat. It’s amazing what comes out of men when they start to talk to each other. I heard a comment recently from one of the blokes that he didn’t know what he’d do if he couldn’t come down to the Shed. So, it’s probably a covert way of bringing men together, because women do this kind of thing so much better than we do!

Do you have a membership fee?

We do – membership is $30 a year, which covers our insurance and costs.

Has the Shed been widely embraced by the men in your area or do some need a push?

There have been times when I’ve chatted to the wife of one of the guys in town and she might say, ‘I’d love him to come down [to the Shed], but he just won’t’ – and what we see is, quite often these men try to be content after they retire, and think they’ll just hang out in their shed at home when they stop working or do their own thing, there’s that perception that they’ll be happy doing that. And maybe they are for a bit, but after a while, something’s missing. The interaction, the camaraderie and the back and forth chat you get when you’re working is part of life for many Aussie males and when it’s gone, you miss it. So lots of times, I have had to go and seek blokes out and encourage them to come down, look at the Shed and see what we do.

Research tells us that men in rural and regional communities can struggle more with mental health issues or high rates of stress and depression. How does the Shed intervene or help, if that’s something you come across in the men who are members?

It’s not something we do specifically or can professionally offer, however, if we see men struggling we can indirectly try and refer them to professionals in town or services who can help.

What’s it like being a member of the Men’s Shed in Singleton?

Some guys come in for the company and a cuppa and some guys come to work on the projects which we produce out of the shed – mostly projects for the community. We’re open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for workshop days. There are different projects under construction all the time in the workshops, but we also have some guys that recycle, refurbish, repair bikes or motors. Friday is a social day and Saturday is also an open day. We also have expert speakers – well we haven’t had so many this year due to Covid but in the past we’ve had the RFS, Mines Rescue, counsellors and First Aid people and others, all coming in to talk to members. We’ve also had IT people come in to explain about computers and new technologies. We try to ensure the speakers are really diverse – they might be men or women who are serving the community in some way or they have a particular interest or hobby or interest to talk to our members about.

So talk me through what the Shed looks like and what blokes can do in there…

There’s a reception area when you walk in where the admin occurs, and then on the left are workshop areas, divided into a woodwork area and metalwork. There’s another small shed at the back which is predominately set for larger woodwork with large sawing/cutting machinery located. And right at the end is a container where the guys operate the gardens, they grow a lot of vegetables which we often donate. There’s also a meeting room area with a TV, seating, tables and members can play darts or have a game of cards or just a chat. And there’s also a connecting kitchen area where you have access to food and drinks. If it’s nice weather, the men will usually go outside with a cuppa – the most important part of the day!

This sounds amazing. Why do they ever go home?!

Haha! I have heard cases where the wife wants the husband out of her hair and so she’ll be like, ‘Get out of the house’, but then she’ll say, ‘He spends all his time there, when is he going to come home and do stuff around here’? We can’t win, hah! Truly though, I know the guys enjoy it. There’s a lot of banter, and a lot of pranks. The garden guys are the Shed pranksters, they’ll hide things, tell untruths and hide your tools and more, but it’s all good fun. There’s a lot of stories I can’t tell you though, haha!

So it’s a case of what goes on in the Shed stays in the Shed?

Exactly… secret men’s business!

It sounds like you have a nice group of guys.

We’ve got a great group of guys from all walks of life – professional people, tradesmen, business people, council workers and of course coal miners. We have a couple of guys that are disabled and they’re an important part of the Shed family, they bring a lot to our Shed. Treating others as equal goes a long way to build friendships and is important in the Shed and the guys soon put someone in their place if they act superior or are arrogant. It doesn’t happen very often but it does happen.

Are you looking for donations and if so, what kinds?

We do receive a lot of materials donated which is very handy for the projects we undertake for the communities, but we’re always looking to expand our tool collection to assist with some of the projects we undertake made much easier. However, we’re always happy to accept donations and materials and give due recognition to the donor/s on our FB page.

What would be your advice to men in the region who don’t know about the Shed?

My message to them would be to come down, see what we do, have a walkthrough, a cuppa and a chat with some of the fellas here, to see what we’re about. You may already know someone in the Shed. You’re definitely welcome – and that goes for all Australian Men’s Sheds of course.

The Men’s Shed is located at 37 Combo Lane.

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