Paul James – Nepean Men’s Shed
To say The Nepean’s Men Shed is saving lives is not exaggerating. Retired men in their 60’s is not exactly an age group that is spoilt for choice with activities to do; and with grown families, no job, a lifetime of bottled-up emotions and bad health creeping in, things can start to go downhill pretty quickly.
The Nepean Men’s Shed started life as the Lower Mountains Men’s Shed in 2010 in a 12 meter square space in Mount Riverview. After several years of looking for a more suitable location and then a few more years making that location suitable to council regulations, they officially opened earlier this year in Orchard Hills in a giant 900 square meter shed – making it the largest Men’s Shed out of over 1000 in Australia.
The Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) started in 2007 as a way to address the issues men face such a loneliness, depression and other preventable diseases that can arise from isolation. The Men’s Shed movement has now become one of the most powerful tools in addressing health and wellbeing and helping men to once again become valued and productive members of our community.
This interview is pretty personal as the guy I chatted to is my Dad and I’ve witnessed first hand the power of The Men’s Shed and the importance of connection and belonging after having given your whole life to working and supporting your family (who are now grown but still act like spoilt brats and tell you to make your own cup of tea).
The Westies: When did you join the Men’s Shed?
Paul: I have been in the men’s shed now, just over two years. I joined it because I got very sick and had some major operations, and after the operations I found myself sitting around at home doing nothing. My wife spoke to one of the blokes from the shed, when our shed was still up the mountains, and the bloke she spoke with came and talked me into going to the shed. I wasn’t really that keen on it.
The Westies: Why not?
Paul: I just thought it was one of those men’s things where not much really goes on and I just didn’t particularly want to go – but once I got up there I started talking to men about problems just like the ones I had just had and I started doing things, building things with my hands, I just thought it was great, I was bitten right from that first day and from that day I have been coming back. Then we [The Nepean Men’s Shed] moved from the mountains down to Orchard Hills and I just love it, it really did save me. If it hadn’t of been for the Men’s Shed, I don’t think I would be alive today because I was getting so lazy, all I wanted to do was sit down and do nothing, sleep, watch TV and that was it, whereas now I am flat out all the time. I come to the shed three days a week, it’s marvellous.
The Westies: What is it that keeps you going back?
Paul – It’s the camaraderie. I worked for 47 years before I retired and I was with men all that time, when you retire you find you’ve got nothing to do. All of a sudden you are out of a job and there are a lot of hours in a day to fill, you might do some travelling but after that you think “what’s there to do?” It’s just so good up here at the shed because I am using my hands, I’ve used my hands all my life and being able to use my hands now for the benefit of the community really makes a difference.
The Westies: What kind of things are you doing at the Men’s Shed?
Paul: That’s secret mens business!
No, we are doing everything, besides using our hands we have table tennis, we have billiards, we have a library where you can sit and read, we have people working on train sets, we have a bloke that is going to teach us how to do leadlighting, we have another bloke who makes jewellery. In the big workshop we’re making things for schools and Penrith Council. It’s a place where guys just enjoy each other’s company and skills.
The Westies: What would you say has changed in you, since before you joined to now?
Paul: I am happy to be alive now! I am really happy to be alive.
When I was really ill, I didn’t care, I really wanted to die there was nothing for me, I felt so down. Where now I feel alive, I am useful! I was feeling useless because I couldn’t do things, whereas now I have a purpose in life, I have a great family who have looked after me and have been wonderful but to have this opportunity to grow on my own and learn new skills and do things, Wow! I am happy to be alive everyday.
The Westies: When can men start coming to the shed?
Paul: I think if you are retiring you should come straight to the a shed and get yourself involved, even before that if you are only working a couple of days a week, come here the other days get to know the men. When you go from 47 years working and you have had company, when that stops and all of a sudden you are getting up of a morning and that’s not there – it’s hard. The good thing about the Men’s Shed movement is that men are now talking, and particularly around mental health where they never used to, it was all built up inside, you didn’t talk to anybody and that caused a lot of problems. At the shed, men freely admit ‘Yes, I’ve got depression’ and they can talk about it and that’s good, it’s really good and it’s saved a lot of men.
The Westies: Do you need to have any skills to join?
Paul: No, you don’t need anything. That the beauty of the place, everybody here is teaching each other. I’ve learnt so much, I learnt how to use a wood lathe, I love it. I had never used one before but now I have one at home. We’ve also got to run the place, so we need people who sit on the board and know that stuff. We’ve got a judge, we’ve got CEOs and high-level managers who have never experienced using their hands and now they’ve got a whole new world opening up to them and they are loving it.
Interview: Katrina James
Photos: Katrina James