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New Steveston Men's Shed seeks workspace for community projects

Richmondites from all walks of life are welcome to join the shedders and give back to the community.

A support group dedicated to fostering community with practical projects is on the hunt for a workspace in Richmond.

The low rumble of conversation from members of the Steveston Men's Shed huddled around a wooden table - unaffected by whirring coffee machines - is hard to miss during their weekly meetings at Sanctuary Cafe.

The shed, newly incorporated as a non-profit society in January, is the latest addition to a worldwide "shed movement" that started in Australia in 2007.

The idea is to offer an inclusive environment for members to work together on practical projects, build social connections and give back to the community. Local sheds often partner with community organizations and work on projects such as little libraries and garden boxes, or repair household items for donation.

"The incentive to get us going was a kick in the pants from Mike (Jennings)," said Steveston Men's Shed treasurer Dave Gibbins.

Jennings, who had been volunteering at the Britannia Heritage Shipyards with many members of the Steveston shed, is the president of Men's Shed Association of BC.

The push from Jennings, coupled with a need in the community for a space to work together on practical projects, were what made the idea come to fruition, said Don Rolls, Steveston Men's Shed president.

And community members who live in apartments might also need access to a workspace where they can fix household items such as bikes and toasters.

"So the shed would be open to all kinds of projects like that, as well as for the community," Rolls said.

Gibbins added the shed also benefits community members who want to build social connections and improve their mental health.

"They say that women talk face to face, but men talk shoulder to shoulder. When they're working alongside each other on the workbench, they'll talk to each other about personal things, but they won't do it face to face," he explained.

Although it's called a "men's" shed, the members are adamant that all community members are welcome.

Space needed for future projects

For the members, or "shedders" as they're sometimes called, their current biggest challenge is the lack of space.

"What we're looking for now is some kind of a workspace where we could set up a shop and do more good work," explained Rolls.

Once the Steveston Men's Shed finds a permanent home, Rolls expects the membership will grow organically.

"If there's a construction site, and they have the holes in the fence, it's always men looking through there to watch other people work," he said.

"And men would come to a facility like (the shed) to do little projects."

In fact, members have already started to join even without a workspace. One member signed up after meeting Rolls in line at the bank.

John Hall, who serves as the secretary, was told to get a hobby at his job running a small charity. Taking it seriously, he started looking into learning to build a boat and eventually found his way to the shed through a neighbour.

Undeterred by the lack of space, the group has been making do with a shack in Ladner and using their own tools to get "little bits and pieces" done wherever they can manage, said Rolls.

Their first project was a collaboration with other local sheds in January to dismantle church pews at a South Vancouver church to be repurposed into furniture for those in need.

More recently, shedders popped by Homma elementary to make bird feeders with a Grade 1 class.

Ideally, the workspace will be as big as a double garage with a power supply for power tools and be as close to Steveston as possible. 

Many of the tools will be donated by members, which will be supplemented by equipment passed down from other sheds as well as those purchased through local grants.

Drawing inspiration from another local shed, Gibbins thinks one solution could be to establish a kind of cooperative relationship with a community organization such as a housing co-op and offer repair and maintenance services in exchange for using the premises.

"We would like to do something like that where it's both a community service thing and hopefully a benefit for us," he said.

'It gives people something to look forward to'

Since joining the shed, the members, many of whom are retired, have noticed an improvement in their mental health.

"It's given us a social outlet, which certainly improves your mental outlook on life," said Gibbins.

"If you're just sitting alone at home, it's very easy to start developing depressing thoughts. Whereas you get out and about and meet people, it brightens your outlook in general."

Member Brian Fisher thinks the structure offered by having a routine has been helpful as well.

"It gives people something to look forward to. They say that generally speaking, men need a bit more structure than ladies... So having the structure a bit more in our lives is very healthy for us," he said.

"And the nice thing is nobody is prying into your personal life. We're just all there and whatever comes out, comes out.

"So it's very relaxed, very welcoming."

In addition to the mental-health benefits, the diverse membership also means members can learn new skills from each other.

"A lot of the skills that individuals bring, they will mentor people," said vice-president Bob James.

He added volunteers at Britannia Heritage Yards have done the same over the years, and those who eventually mastered skills would then mentor other people.

Once the Steveston Men's Shed secures a workspace, the next step will be to diversify the membership.

"We're just a bunch of old white guys," said Rolls, who added he would like to have a diverse mix of people as they used to when they volunteered at the Britannia Heritage Shipyards.

"As well as some ladies, even though it's a men's shed."

"We want to represent the community," Fisher added.

Community members with leads on a workspace or interest in joining the Steveston Men's Shed can contact Hall at secretarystevestonshed@gmail.com.

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