The importance of Men's Sheds in enhancing community wellbeing and social inclusion

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I am delighted that Ms Lawder brought this matter of public importance before the Assembly this afternoon, and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to it for a few moments.

Recently I struck up a phone conversation with an elderly gentleman who responded to a classified advertisement that my family and I had placed in a local paper. In the course of speaking, he let me know that he recently lost both his wife and his dog and felt lonely and lost. This information broke my heart!

Sometimes I worry that many of us have lives that are so filled with people and things to do that we overlook the existence of those who have no one and next-to-nothing to make them feel a part of a bigger community. Not everyone has a busy household full of noisy children practising the piano, working on school assignments and kicking the soccer ball against the side of the house. Not everyone has a job to go to – some because they are retired, some because they have lost their employment. Too many people have no one to talk to, no one to share with, and no one to care for.

After speaking with the older gentleman that I mentioned earlier, I thought about his situation and what I could do. Then I rang him back and invited him to come have dinner with my family and me. I am happy to be able to do this, but I know that dinner at the Kikkert household is never going to be enough to meet the needs of the thousands of Canberrans who find themselves socially isolated for whatever reason.

Social inclusion means that all individuals are able to access services, connect with family and friends, enjoy work, pursue personal interests, belong to a local community, deal with personal crises, and have their voices heard. In short, it is about making sure that no one is left out.

Research conducted by the University of Melbourne and the Brotherhood of St Laurence in 2010 estimated that five per cent of the Australian population are subject to profound social exclusion. Many of these people are men and especially older men who have left the workforce.

As Peter Butterworth of the ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment has noted, quote, ‘For men, in particular, work … provides a major opportunity for social connections and interactions … So the loss of work, particularly for men … can have a profound effect on mental health’.

And as Jeff Kennett, founder and board chairman of BeyondBlue, has put it: ‘Where do men go, particularly when they’re a bit older or if they’re younger and lose their jobs? Where do they go if they’ve got nothing productive to do? Many stay at home and just shrink and drink and die’.

It is into this breach that the Men’s Shed movement has stepped. First developed as an idea at a 1995 men’s health conference, there are now 850 Men’s Sheds established across Australia, and still more are forming. A Men’s Shed is a shared space where local men both old and young can get together and bond over shared hobbies and interests, develop and share knowledge and skills, serve the community by working on various local projects, and build friendships and connections.

Madam Speaker, community-run Men’s Sheds are a prime example of what effective prevention looks like. Research clearly indicates how damaging social isolation can be both physically and mentally. In contrast, those who participate in Men’s Sheds typically experience improved self-esteem, physical and mental health, and wellbeing.

I am grateful that two of Canberra’s Men’s Sheds are located in my electorate of Ginninderra. The Belconnen Community Men’s Shed in Page is open four days per week and was purpose-built. It is fully insulated, has disabled access, and is equipped with both woodworking and metalworking tools. The Melba Shed offers a weekly program of activities, including presentations and excursions, and currently hosts a walking group, a cycling group, and a Meccano group.

This last group goes to three or more local primary schools each week to work one-on-one with students to build Meccano models. This mentoring program provides boys with friendly and positive experiences with older males and focuses on the skills of perseverance, responsibility and public speaking – proving that the good things that happen in Men’s Sheds don’t just stay in the sheds.

Madam Speaker, I am personally grateful for Men’s Sheds and for all they do to improve community wellbeing and social inclusion in the ACT. I encourage all Canberrans to acknowledge and support this important work.

Thank you.

#MattersofPublicImportance #Community

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