THE making of six wooden paipos, or wooden Hawaiian bodyboards, is a centrepiece of a project that is sees generations swapping skills.
In return for being shown how to handle timber working tools by members of Mornington Men’s Shed students from Mt Eliza Secondary College are giving lessons on handling such digital touch screen devices as smart phones and hand held computers.
But the outcomes for both old and young go much deeper than the creation of a surfboard or ability to operate a smart phone or computer.
A surprising connection between the generations comes in the form of statistics: about 15 per cent of seniors on the Mornington Peninsula suffer depression and about 20 per cent of year 7 and year 8 students suffer depression.
“They’re horrible statistics and I don’t think we fully understand what they mean to our community,” Better Together Project leader Merv Stewart said.
“But both ends [young and old] have that problem.”
Mr Stewart said the Better Together Project is a “social enterprise … that believes that when generations, families, businesses and individuals from different walks of life share, connect and learn from one another we have a richer, more effective community”.
When he started his project two years ago it was aimed at “addressing one of the most significant challenges impacting the largest and fastest growing demographic in the population – addressing the digital exclusion of seniors”.
It didn’t take long for him to realise that having the two generations work alongside one another also brought them closer together, with obvious mutually beneficial outcomes.
The idea of having young and old working together was extended earlier this month to making the bellyboards with Mt Eliza-based wooden surfboard makers Tree to Sea.
Gary Miller and Rob Ivers usually show groups of eight how to make surfboards from the plantation grown timber, paulownia. This time the half day workshop involved six students and six members of Mornington Men’s Shed.
They planed, sawed and glued the boards which will be varnished and polished by the men’s shed members.
Profits from their sale will then go towards running the shed.
Mr Stewart, of Mt Martha, says “real magic” happens when the two generations work together.
Within hours of the boards being built the story behind their construction was featured on the beyondblue Facebook page which in turn created an “unbelievable response” back to Mr Stewart.
Inquiries about the Better Together Project have come from all around Australia.
Another boost will come next month when Mr Stewart, a Mt Eliza Secondary College student and “a local senior” feature on posters promoting Westpac bank’s social change fellowships.
Westpac has appointed the Irish born consultant program manager one of its ambassadors.
“I’m being used to show what’s possible when you reconnect the generations,” Mr Stewart said. “They have shared issues.”
He hopes the Better Together Project will gain a “national momentum”.
When the two generations were working side by side “it feels good, you can feel the energy and there’s no need to teach anyone how to interact”.
Mr Stewart said the board-making half day had been a great success.
Seeing the departing students call out their thanks from a bus “says we’re really onto something here”.
Mr Stewart said the idea behind the project grew from the realisation that the “story” behind his family’s 16th century dairy farm in Ireland had been lost, partly because of the gulf between generations created as a by-product of the digital age. “They didn’t know how to use technology.”
He now plans to take the co-operation between generations into sport and hopes talks now underway will see Mt Eliza Secondary offering one-on-one computer training to seniors on a regular basis as part of its “real time learning” classes.
“We’ve run four or five events at the school and hope other schools will also pick them up.
“The generations are all training together and the activity and experience is the key to success, not necessarily the product.”