How fire saved Stanhope’s Men’s Shed

By Holly Tregenza

THE story of how Stanhope and District Men's Shed went from struggling to soaring is a triumph in small town spirit.

And they have been recognised for their ingenuity at the National Men's Shed Awards, winning the recycling category as one of only four awards given out across the country.

They were up against about 1200 men's sheds across Australia, but none could beat the humble Stanhope shed, given their impressive effort to recycle an entire factory.

Drive through the town on any given day and you are likely to see a trailer load of wood, factory shelving or even a cable drum being carted by a willing volunteer between the Fonterra factory and the men's shed.

That is the result of years of hard work after a massive fire in 2014 that ripped through the Fonterra site.

It was a devastating loss for the 500 or so residents of Stanhope, where Fonterra is the main employer.

The company began the rebuilding process, and among all the bad news there was a silver lining.

Excess wood. And lots of it.

Enter the Stanhope and District Men's Shed.

“I would estimate we have carted 300 trailer loads of wooden pallets, stainless steal, corrugated iron and other materials from the factory,” shed treasurer Des Crichton said.

“We barely have to buy a stick of timber.”

Des was one of the first to see the potential of the project and has been working closely with Fonterra project manager Frank De Fedes ever since.

“When the world blows up and there is nothing left, I do believe we will still have wood,” Des laughed.

And while it is easy to see it as just a venture in recycling, the project has meant so much more to this little community.

“Six years ago I was rather dubious about our future,” shed president Merv Andrews said.

“This is the best thing to happen to Stanhope in many years.

“It's attracted community-minded people to the men's shed from all over the district and connected so many people.

“Farm sheds all around this area are full of recycled stuff from Fonterra.

“I didn't know how we would keep going... Fonterra have just helped us so much.”

The abundance of materials means that the shed does not have to rely on grants and donations to survive, and has allowed the group to purchase equipment or update it at will.

They have currently got around 40 members that call the shed home, and that includes folks from as far as Moooroopna, Rushworth, Kyabram and Tatura.

Some are ex-tradesmen and some come with no hard skills at all, but regardless of ability level everyone contributes where they are needed.

Sometimes that means building a chicken coop for a mate down the road, and sometimes that means making a cuppa for someone during the weekly coffee and tea meeting.

And there have been some quirky projects along the way too, with one member (much to the chagrin of his wife) re-purposing a two-tonne cable drum as a garden ornament, and a number of cheese drying racks going to new homes in farm sheds as work benches.

The self-professed 'smallest pub in Australia' is a favourite among members and sits happily out the front of the shed, gleefully made by member Les Williamson from recycled Fonterra material.

The tiny pub, about the size of a trailer, is complete with a beer pump, beer pots, a rather risque bar maid and of course, a 'beer garden' out the back that looks a lot like two pot plants on the ground.

“The shed has done a lot of good for everyone,” Les said.

“It's companionship. I've made great friends here that I otherwise would never have met.

“This place is the light of the town.”

No-one agrees with that statement more than Fonterra project manager Frank DiSede.

He said that the partnership between Fonterra and the Stanhope community is an "absolute win-win situation".

“We're always trying to help our community especially where our factories are based so when the men's shed approached us it was just the perfect opportunity,” he said.

“When Des rang me to say that they won the award, he was so excited and we were so excited for them too.

“I feel so proud when they show me the photos of what they have actually made out of our material and there is a real sense of achievement when they've made it from something that would have gone to landfill.

“The factory has been here for nearly 100 years and this is just a really incredible addition to its history.”

In a testament to the nature of the men's shed, even Frank has taken to popping his head in at the workshop every now and then and is welcomed with open arms.

“They are an amazing community, and even though I am just the project manager we really are friends now,” he said.

“Before this project I only knew two or three people but now i feel like I'm involved in the whole community — I was even invited to the Christmas party!”

And for Des, Merv and the whole team at the men's shed, that is really what it is all about.

“It's about talking shoulder to shoulder, giving people confidence and keeping each other company,” Merv said.

“We're really thrilled with the award, it is a testament to the wonderful community we are in.”

If you are interested in joining the Stanhope Men's Shed or want to find out more, give them a call on 0457 300 321.