As part of our Coping with COVID-19 series we talk with Lindsay Oates, who recently received this year’s Victorian Local Men’s Health Hero Award in recognition of his work as president of the Victorian Men’s Shed Association. Lindsay is a member of St Andrew’s Uniting Church of Mirboo North.
How have the Men’s Sheds been affected by the lockdowns?
The majority of the Victorian Men’s Shed Association (VMSA) member Sheds shut down completely during lockdown. Overall, there are about 325 Men’s Sheds around Victoria, although not all of these are members of the VMSA. However, there have been a few that have been still open, for example, one Shed does outside gardening for people in the community, as well as maintaining and assisting with their local council gardens and particularly working in their community garden.
How have you and they responded?
There would be about 20,000 Shedders across Victoria. Some Sheds have a large membership of over 365 men and some women, others may only have four to 12 men. Most Shedders are in that very vulnerable older age group. The lockdown has affected many of the men in different ways. Some who are single and lonely and living in rural remote areas have found it very hard going. These men have been contacted very regularly, some daily and some twice daily to ensure that they were travelling OK. Others have been contacted on a weekly basis by mail or phone and some have had personal visits to the front step or front gate. In one case Shed members drive over 150km each week to visit just one remote Shedder. Some Sheds have walking groups and they are rostered to ensure that a different Shedder walks past either each day or each week and drops by for a chat. Other Sheds have been using Zoom, Skype, emails and other internet means. Some Sheds are looking after others in their community; doing the shopping, collecting their mail and prescriptions, and taking people for their appointments.
Are there particular challenges to men’s mental and/or physical health during this period?
There have been some huge challenges for Sheds that have members who have been through a lot of stress, are depressed or suicidal, lonely, are grieving, angry and some who have early signs of dementia. There is a Shedder with mild dementia who turns up at his closed Shed at 9am every morning. He knows how to use his mobile phone and he rings the Shed’s Supervisor to ask “Where the heck are you? The Shed should be open!” Once the supervisor receives the call, he goes to the Shed and takes the Shedder home.
In another Shed, which has some members who are very depressed the Shed rings them mid-morning to talk and see if they are OK.
There are many great stories of how Shedders are saving lives and making a difference because they really care about each other. One Shedder who was dying was asked by his fellow Shedders what could they do for him, even though the Shed was closed. The Shedder asked for a coffin to be made by the Shed and they did just that. Many older men over 85 years appear to be showing signs of PTSD as they recall their parents, “the battlers”, facing up to the hardships prior to, during and immediately after the Second World War. These men recall the nightly lights out and heavy curtains and blinds to stop any light escaping, the rationing and how hard it was for their parents and their family to live in rural and suburban Australia. There are also those who came here as migrants at an early age who had experienced the war back in their country of origin. These Shedders appreciate the calls and contact from their younger Shedders.
Have there been any positives to come out of this?
There have been phone calls from families, wives, mothers and partners stating: “You have saved my life in showing that your members really care about my husband. Soon after your Shed has phoned, my husband calms down for the rest of the day; if they do not phone he becomes quite upset”. A Shedder who was in hospital while Sheds were in complete lockdown received lots of phone calls from his fellow Shedders, enough for the hospital nursing staff to say that such calls were making a real difference to his mental health and physical recovery. One of the men who was very depressed who received the phone calls from a particular Shed commented that such support and friendship made him feel that he was liked, cared for and that he felt he worthy to be a member of the Shed and that rural community.
How has the lockdown affected the viability of Sheds?
The restrictions stop Sheds from running BBQs and selling goods at Farmers or local markets and consequently many Sheds are finding it a challenge to stay sustainable and viable. That will be a big challenge if such restrictions continue for some months.
In this testing time, do you have a personal message or faith reflection you would like to share?
To me, my faith in following Christ and my commitment to the Church has led me. I believe it is my calling to observe, to listen, to share, to give and to care, as well as to love and to assist those who are not so fortunate. By helping others to engage you can see the changes such actions bring about in the lives of fellow human beings and in the community.
Need help? Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.