A Men’s Shed homed by a community hub in the heart of Cringila is already a multicultural melting pot helping retirees to socialise and stay active in their community and now new funding will help the group go a step further and create an even safer space for their members.
George Cross Falcons Men’s Shed was founded more than a decade ago after the community centre’s president Louis Parnis saw a gap in the opportunities for older men.
“I noticed that a lot of people finishing work at the steelworks were lost and didn’t have anything to do and I thought how good would it be for people to stay active when they turn 70,” he said.
With support from the Australian Men’s Shed Association, the group slowly started to take form with only around three members in a small workshop underneath the community centre building.
The group received sponsorship from Collegians and federal funding, which allowed it to buy the tools and equipment needed to get started, but the members still needed tasks to complete.
“We had tools and we had a place, and thought so now what do we do?” Louis said.
They enlisted the help of a local toymaker, the late Bill Micallef, who took on the project and guided members in making wooden planes to donate to The Salvation Army and local shelters for families escaping domestic violence.
“We wanted it so that when the women went in, their kids would be given a free toy,” Louis said.
Many years later, the group has continued to grow and change but with volunteers like Vincent Xuereb, members are still able to make toys and donate them to charities and people in need.
“I’m very proud and I cherish that,” Vincent said.
He has been coming to the Men’s Shed for eight years and has watched more people get involved and bring new skills to the group.
“They come over here and some of them are tradesmen, so we can get information from them,” Vincent said. “I’m a fitter by trade but some of them are carpenters, so I have to ask them questions.”
With more than a dozen members and a more spacious shed, the men have the freedom to build and make whatever they like, but Louis said many of them chose to give back to the community centre and help out where they could.
“They do repairs, maintenance, they might do some painting or if we ask them to make something like a leg for a table, they do that here.”
And now their group is set to become a little safer, with first aid training on offer for members using a $3500 grant from the Federal Government.
“Sometimes here it takes about half an hour to get an ambulance, so if we need to do a compression or a bandage, it will be important,” Louis said.
“But it’s not just for the Men’s Shed either, this goes to the committee and volunteers. We recently taught them how to use the defibrillator that we have, so that will be another refresher.”
But the group is about more than making and doing things, it’s about community and connectivity.
“The Men’s Shed is a recycling thing, people come and go, but ultimately our idea is that people have friendship,” Louis said.
“We need to show respect, we don’t want to treat them like someone we don’t know, we want to be a family.”
And it is accessible and inclusive for those who need it.
“Although we’re Australians, there’s Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, South American, so it’s a diverse group working all together under the one roof. It’s a beautiful concept,” Louis said.
“And it doesn’t matter which suburb you live in, you can live in Kiama and still join us.
“Ultimately, what we want to see is people not falling into depression or anxiety and getting to meet and talk to other people.”
To find out more about George Cross Falcons Men’s Shed, visit the community centre website or contact Louis Parnis on 0420 857 363.