BAXTER Men’s Shed volunteers have been waiting seven months to get back to helping the community and supporting member’s wellbeing and mental health.
The men’s shed had been operating successfully for around eight years until a fire destroyed the workshop in Baxter-Tooradin Road in December. Despite being insured and having had contact with insurance assessors and Mornington Peninsula Shire Council officers, the men’s shed remains in limbo.
Shed president Bill Wood says there were about 80 members at the time of the fire, but that numbers had dropped since COVID restrictions and then its forced closure. He said members were disheartened with the lack of progress.
“We are butting our heads against bureaucracy. We ask the questions but don’t get anywhere – we still don’t know if the building can be repaired or whether it will be demolished,” he said. “It’s like a scene from [the television show] Utopia … our frustration is that no decisions seem to have been made, we are going round and round in circles but not much is getting done.”
Within a couple of days of the fire the building was fenced off and tarps installed over the holes in the roof cause by melted skylights. But the tarps have been destroyed by bad weather and water is now getting in.
The men’s shed contributed to the cost of installing the shed on council land and has not only lost its home but much of its collection of machinery and tools. The charred remains are now a sad and soggy reminder of the once-thriving enterprise.
Wood said the men had not been given any assurances that they would have an alternative place to work on their community projects.
“The frustration we are feeling is as much tied up in lack of communication as it is in no sign of tangible progress,” he said.
“It seems like nothing has been done – the difficulty bounces from one bench to another – insurance and council, meanwhile nothing moves.
“As a result our members can’t participate, and our disabled group that operated here once a week can’t be involved – that’s a huge blow to the social and mental health support that the shed offers.
“Guys don’t always have support networks because they tend to stick to themselves, and this workshop and the shed philosophy of comradeship is essential to give them that.”
The shed also takes on a range of community projects and has built seating for the Hastings foreshore, the community centre garden, bird nesting boxes and garden furniture for schools. Some men also have their own projects.
Club secretary Graham Balmer said about 19 machines had been “written off” by an insurance assessor, but there was still no confirmation of when or what would happen next.
“I think the shire and the insurance people are both dragging their feet,” he said.
“We just want a decision to be made about demolish or rebuild, we want the council to coordinate all this with the insurer – take over the role and get something done.”
Balmer said there seemed to be a stalemate, as there was talk – but no confirmation – that an unused shed in Hastings could be used to store equipment and allow for a proper clean up or demolition.
Wood said the shed wanted to get things happening as soon as possible before other members “drop off and the shed loses momentum”.
The mayor Cr Steve Holland said the delay was due to “having to wait until the contents insurer provided a date for the removal of the group’s belongings”.
“Once the contents have been removed, we can do a final assessment on the scope of work involved and provide estimated costs to our insurer for fixing the existing shed or rebuilding it,” he said.
“Our property team has been in constant contact with the Baxter Men’s Shed committee and shares their frustrations at this delay. In the meantime, the team is drawing up an agreement for Baxter Men’s Shed to use the former men’s shed at Hastings Hub at no cost.”