Defence Sheds: where everyone is equal under one roof

Defence Sheds are based on the principles of the well-known Men’s Sheds and offer both mateship and a range of support services to support the mental health and overall wellbeing of Australian Defence Force (ADF) members, veterans, first responders, and their families.

‘We cater for everyone,’ says National President Rod Wicks. ‘You walk through our door and you're one of us, we will offer assistance, or direct you to someone who can.’

The first Defence Shed was established eight years ago in Port Adelaide with the motto ‘Everyone is equal under one roof’ and now has more than 1,700 members on its Facebook page.

‘It’s taken an amazing amount of work and dedication to take Defence Sheds from a vision to a reality,’ says Chairperson of the Port Adelaide Defence Shed, Frances Bagrowski.

‘We try hard to take the pressure off and create an environment where everyone can participate in activities they enjoy.’

Frances became involved with the Shed in February 2020, when she and her husband instantly fell in love with the Shed’s community. In October that year, she became the Shed’s Chairperson.

‘The mateship, banter and social connection the Shed provided greatly improved my husband’s mental health. It was enough to convince me that I wanted to be as involved as I could.

‘The benefits I have seen the Shed have on those involved has been amazing. I feel honoured that I’m trusted and able to assist. I’ve seen improvements in confidence, independence, social connection, but also purpose.’

The Shed has a huge variety of activities available, including: kayaking events, bike riding, woodworking, fundraisers, first aid courses, soup days, SecondBite initiatives (assisting vulnerable members with food security) and projects with the local council and conservation groups.

The Shed also receives regular visits from Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling peer support workers. Peers draw on their own lived experiences from the military and mental health service system to provide insight and support to veterans with complex care needs.

‘The Shed has developed great relationships with the Open Arms peers,’ Frances says. ‘We’ve also participated in mental health and suicide awareness courses with Open Arms.’

In addition, the Shed is registered with the Advocacy Training and Development Program (ATDP) for advocacy services, as well as the South Australian Veteran Wellbeing Centre and the Jamie Larcombe Centre – Veterans Mental Health Precinct.

‘These connections allow us to link members with professional support services that we are not able to provide. We also have strong connections with the Partners of Veterans Association, so we can also offer support to families.’

In February, Repatriation Commissioner Don Spinks AM took the opportunity to visit the William Kibby VC Veterans Shed in Glenelg North. The Kibby Shed isn’t part of the Defence Sheds network but operates along similar lines.

‘The Shed provides wellbeing and mateship by creating an environment for veterans where concerns, past trauma, health and welfare issues can be discussed with other veterans who have been through similar life experiences,’ says Commissioner Spinks.

Currently, there are Defence Sheds located in South Australia and New South Wales, with smaller, less structured coffee catch-ups across Australia.

‘Each Shed is independent and run by volunteers through donations, fundraising and grants,’ Frances says. 'Each community also has a different demographic and level of need, so it’s important they’re tailored to their local area. When we are approached by someone who would like to open a Shed, we first suggest starting a coffee catch-up in the area to gauge the community need.’

The Wagga Wagga Defence Shed in the Riverina area of New South Wales opened in 2019 and also provides a range of support services to the veteran community.

‘Getting together with like-minded people is so important,’ says Secretary Jason Frost. ‘We hold a range of regular group activities throughout the year, including fishing days, coffee mornings and barbecues. These activities are family friendly and all ADF members, veterans, first responders and their families in the area are welcome.’

The Sheds also provide members with skills-based workshops and coordinate a variety of certified TAFE courses throughout the year where members can gain valuable skills to boost employment prospects or their capabilities in an area of interest.

‘Over the years the feedback we’ve received from our members on the projects and funded courses has been amazing,’ Jason says. ‘There’s a range of courses available, including welding, computer-aided design, hospitality and first aid, so there really is something for everyone.’

As with most Men’s Sheds nowadays, Defence Sheds welcome women and families.

Anyone looking to get involved or donate is encouraged to contact:

  • The Port Adelaide Defence Shed at: admin [at] defenceshedportadelaide.org.au or phone 0427 607 933 or on Facebook.
  • The Wagga Wagga Defence Shed at: dsww.secretary [at] defenceshedwagga.com.au or on Facebook

There are also coffee catch-ups in Merriwa NSW, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. Defence Sheds is currently working with Wounded Heroes to establish a Defence Shed in Warcol, Queensland and has received interest from locations in Victoria. 

For more information, and to keep up to date with upcoming locations, join the Defence Shed Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/www.defenceshed.com.au.

 

Members of the Port Adelaide Defence Shed

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Six people pose next to their kayaks with thumbs up
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Woman works on timber structure inside large shed