Hurstbridge Community Shed
Nillumbik 16 Days of Activism Case Study
Most Victorians are familiar with the concept of a Men’s Shed – a communal space where men from the local community can gather to tinker with tools, repair household items and pass down practical skills from generation to generation. Men’s Sheds were born of a necessity, for men approaching retirement and downsizing to retirement villages or smaller dwellings, to retain a place where hands-on activities and projects could continue.
As the Men’s Shed movement grew in popularity in Victoria throughout the 1990s, a broader purpose was recognised. Men’s Sheds were seen to offer a refuge for those experiencing loneliness, social isolation and mental ill-health linked with major life changes, including unemployment, retirement and loss and grief. Men’s Sheds provide an opportunity to nurture friendships, de-stigmatise men’s mental health and foster a sense of purpose and accomplishment through community participation and the completion of meaningful projects. The Victorian Men’s Shed Association (VSMA) report there are currently 325 sheds operating across Victoria.
Fast forward 20 years, and the Hurstbridge Men’s Shed is struggling. Operating out of a tiny storage space at the local community hub, membership is limited to six to eight men at any given time - barely enough to form a volunteer committee of management.
But help was on the way
In October 2018, the need for a fit-for-purpose Men’s Shed in Hurstbridge was identified as a priority through community feedback and confirmed as part of a new Precinct Plan for Graysharps Road in Hurstbridge. In 2022, it was announced that Hurstbridge Men’s Shed was set to get a permanent home of its own with the Victorian Government and Nillumbik Shire Council to jointly fund the construction of a new workshop and meeting place.
Then came a comment no one expected from Hurstbridge Men’s Shed Secretary, Brian Jones - "A million dollars is too much to spend on a handful of grumpy old blokes".
Testing the waters
When the funding for the new shed was announced via Nillumbik Shire Council’s social media page, Brian kept a close eye on the community’s reaction.
“There was a bit of negativity about it,” reflected Brian. “'What Hurstbridge needs is a women’s shed!' It wasn’t much, but it was there, and I thought, well – let’s run some courses.”
Brian and the Hurstbridge Men’s Shed committee of management set about organising a suite of courses tailored specifically for women, focusing on the safe use of power tools. The courses promptly sold out, with eight women attending each of the two 2-hour courses on offer.
“Jules, the lady who runs the community garden helped me promote it, because we’re hopeless at that kind of stuff,” chuckles Brian. “We ran the courses – they sold out – eight in each one. We then had a contact list of the women who had been in the courses and we went back to them and said, ‘Do you want to come down and talk about joining the shed?’ and that’s really how it all started.”
Prior to delivering the courses, Brian and the committee of management had already recognised that with a greater diversity of membership came more opportunity for community impact. “The other thing we did was apply for charity status and deductible gift recipient status, and that meant changing the constitution. Funnily enough, they (the Australian Taxation Office) did say – if you want to keep it men only, you can… which I thought was a bit odd.”
Brian took the opportunity, through the process of amending the constitution, to update it to gender neutral language.
“If you talk to the Australian Men’s Shed Association, they say, it’s up to the members what you want to do.”
The members of the Hurstbridge Men’s Shed were ready to open up their doors to the wider community. “Why not?” said Brian. “Let’s let everyone have a go.”
Fulfilling childhood dreams
In 2022 Lara Jackson, a mental health practitioner, was suffering the impacts of long COVID.
“I was so miserable. I was at home, and I didn’t have the energy to do anything,” said Lara. “I saw this power tools course for women come up on Facebook… I’d always wanted to learn. I’d be grabbing bits of wood and nails as a kid, trying to make something out of it… but there was no opportunity.”
“I turned up to this women and power tools thing, not expecting to learn anything more than what I was going to be taught on the night,” remembers Lara. “It was so good, it was way more than I expected and it was very empowering.”
After two hours, Lara had the confidence to know what she needed to buy for her home DIY projects, understood what tools would be best for her to use to work around the arthritis in her wrist and the motivation to get started.
It wasn’t long before Lara was leading her own group on a Sunday monday.
“I call my group the ‘Tired Mums’ group,” jokes Lara. “I’m enjoying it so much… to the extent that if there are any events or something happening on a Sunday, I’m like, ‘no… it’s my Shed day'. I feel like I’m actually learning how to do stuff and I can make the changes at home that I want to make.”
Lara also reflects on how her increased confidence has shifted assumptions around gender stereotypes in her own home. “I’ve got a son and a daughter and they’re seeing from me that, 'Oh, I don’t need Dad to do this'.”
Change on the horizon
Hurstbridge Men’s Shed is continuing to make strides towards being a more welcoming and inclusive community organisation, and has recently challenged the status quo by electing Lara as their president.
“It was an easy decision for me,” said Lara, “What an awesome opportunity to be a part of something which is really inclusive, and is open to building itself into something that the whole community would want to be a part of.”
When asked how he would describe Lara as a president, Brian said “Ideal. In many respects. Particularly with her mental health background, that’s just an added bonus.”
In another courageous step forward, the committee of management have also recently voted to rebrand to the Hurstbridge ‘Community Shed’, rather than ‘Men’s Shed’. Both Brian and Lara feel strongly that we will see more Community Sheds emerge in the future.
“It’s not taking away from what men have, it doesn’t mean that,” says Lara – recognising that it will always be important to provide spaces for men to connect with other men, and to support one another’s mental health.
“There’s a huge amount of funding made available to Men’s Sheds,” adds Brian. “Why not make it something for everyone in the community?”
Lara hopes that the gender neutral name will also support the inclusion of gender diverse community members in future.
“As a mental health practitioner, I’ve seen first-hand the damage that comes from someone being excluded based on their attributes,” said Lara. “There’s so much benefit for anyone – of any gender – being able to share skills throughout the community.”
Find out more information about Nillumbik's 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence grants or email Gender.Equity@nillumbik.vic.gov.au.
Pictured left to right: Lara Jackson (President – Hurstbridge Community Shed) and Brian Jones (Secretary – Hurstbridge Community Shed)