Volunteer Program

5 Reasons To Love Port Phillip Men's Shed

I must confess I had never heard of a Men’s Shed. I am not from these shores and was blissfully ignorant until this week. I received an email from Port Phillip Men’s Shed making me aware of their outstanding sustainability efforts and I am now a big fan.

A Men’s Shed is an updated version of the shed in the backyard. It provides a safe and busy environment to find an atmosphere of old-fashioned mateship. In doing so it supports men’s health.

And if that wasn’t enough they’re doing great things in sustainability. Port Phillip is fortunate enough to have their own thriving Men’s Shed based in South Melbourne.

There’s too many reasons to list why you should love your local Men’s Shed but here’s just 5;

1. Recycling

Many projects utilise recycled timbers sourced from skips, donations by local business and members. Several projects we have made on behalf of community groups incorporate such materials. Some of these projects are:

  • Musical instruments for both the Albert Park and Middle Park primary schools

  • Bird nesting boxes

  • The ‘Mary and Basil’ sign for the community garden at the Mary Kehoe Centre

  • Compost bins for the St Kilda Primary School.

  • Paints and varnishes. We use paints and varnishes in projects that have been donated to us from industry or community donations that would otherwise end up in landfill.

  • Fittings and hardware. We use items such as screws, nails, bolts, brackets and various hardware items that have been donated to us, often from deceased estates. We are aware that some of these materials would have ended up as garbage if we did not accept them.

  • Tools. A variety of tools that have been donated to us are either added to our workshops or have been handed on to the needy in our community.

  • Members are invited to leave disused batteries at our Men’s Shed. These are collected and disposed of sustainably.

2. Repairs

They carries out numerous repairs to furniture items that would otherwise be discarded and ending up in landfill. They repair broken toys from the local toy libraries.

3. Vegetable Garden

Vegetables grown in our vegetable garden are regularly used in weekly lunches. Any surplus vegetables can be taken by PPMSA members or given to the needy.

All compostable vegetable matter we generate is composted. Members and the community can also add to our compost system.

4. Little free Libraries

There are now 14 book exchange units (Little Free Libraries) they have made that are located throughout our municipality. These book exchanges are proving popular as people can either leave unwanted books or borrow books from them.

5. Christmas trees

Wooden Christmas trees are made and sold at the South Melbourne Market each December. These trees are made from scrap timber and laminated form contrasting patterns. Get in quick they’re very popular!

Boomerang Bags Port Phillip

The last time I sewed I was in primary school and I had to get the big plastic needle through the big gaping hole. I think my teacher and I were both in agreement that I should stick to colouring in. Last weekend that all changed, at the ripe age of thirty something, I made a bag, not just any bag, a Boomerang Bag.

Twice a month Boomerang Bags Port Phillip hold a sewing bee and having heard so much about this great initiative I thought it was probably time that I found my thimble and my inner seamster. Boomerang Bags works to reduce the use of plastic bags by engaging local communities in the making of reusable bags – community made, using recycled materials. Boomerang Bags provide a free, fun, sustainable alternative to plastic bags.

I was warmly greeted by Mandy Burns and Megan Gourlay, the driving forces behind Boomerang Bags Port Phillip and lovely people to boot. Pleasantries completed I was whisked off to a table full of unwanted and unlikely materials that were to be transformed into something beautiful and sustainable; from hospital bedding packaging to rice sacks, items that otherwise would have found their way to landfill.

In keeping with the bee theme, the room was buzzing with activity. Fabric was being cut, pockets were being pinned, badges were being sewn and I was staring blankly at templates. Feeling a little out of my comfort zone I was delighted when a lovely volunteer called Joan asked if I wanted to have a go on the sewing machine. I took a seat, pressed the pedal, created a perfect line of cross stitch, and suddenly sewing made sense.

Joan, a regular volunteer at Boomerang Bags sewing bees, was a former sew sceptic too. But an environmental conscience and a community mind brought her along to a Boomerang Bags sewing bee and she hasn’t looked back. “I love meeting the different people who come along, knowing that I’m helping to create something that benefits the environment and our local community.”

I chatted with a young family who found out about the sewing bee through the Port Phillip Volunteer Portal. Whilst mum and dad were keen to meet some new people, their 7-year-old son was happy to learn a new skill during the school holidays and spend time as a family.

This is what initiatives like Boomerang Bags do, they bring people together who otherwise would never have met. It was hard to say goodbye to the bag I made, it was a thing of rare beauty. Knowing that it would be used time and time again by South Melbourne market shoppers, since it’s gone plastic bag free, softened the blow.

Whether you want to learn something new, meet new people, give back to your community or do your bit for the environment, I encourage you to give up a little of your Saturday to do something fantastic. You never know, you might even enjoy sewing as much as I did. 

Find out about the next sewing bee here

St Kilda Mums

As a St Kilda dad, I often hear other parents discussing the excellence of St Kilda Mums. It took a while to realise I wasn’t being discriminated and that St Kilda Mums is in fact a pioneering local charity. St Kilda Mums gifts bundles of baby and child essentials to families that really need them. They might be a refugee child, someone born to a mother with a disability, or a little girl or boy who's escaped domestic violence.

I wanted to go along and see for myself what goes on behind the doors of their large warehouse on Vale Street, St Kilda. Founder and CEO Jessica Macpherson, bursts through the doors with a warm smile and an impressive energy given that it is a cold, Monday morning in May.  I note that Jessica is clutching an All Blacks lunch box, a hint towards her New Zealand upbringing.

I get a sense that time is a precious commodity at St Kilda Mums and they use every last drop wisely. There is an impressive hum of activity as volunteers get to work; sorting and packing immaculate bundles ready for collection from social workers and maternal child and health nurses across Victoria. Every bit of floorspace is used, piles and piles of carefully packaged and labelled bundles full of everything a young child may need, from toys and prams to clothes and cots. It’s a Santa’s Grotto right here in St Kilda.

It all started in 2009 when a group of five mums were attending the St Kilda Maternal and Child Health Centre on Chapel Street. They noticed baby goods stacked high in the photocopying room that had been donated by local parents. Jessica, a lady who I suspect was born to ‘do’, volunteered to sort, launder and package the goods ready for families to enjoy. As they’ve grown they’ve gone from operating from their own verandas, to a donated double garage, to the more spacious warehouse they now call home.

There is a dignity in the way they go about their work. They don’t gift anything they wouldn’t be comfortable giving to their own children. Clothing is diligently sniffed and stain checked. Car restraints are safety checked and cleaned. Cots are checked to ensure all parts are present. Toys are sifted through to sort safe from the unsafe. They want to delight the new owners with items that are high quality, safe, clean and functioning.  

There is an emphasis on reuse of donated items, everything that can be reused is. Whilst they accept all donated goods, they are unable to reuse some, because they simply do not meet safety standards. In that instance, they will recycle. Whilst they don’t want the unsuitable goods, they will not refuse to take them, to do so might mean unsafe items will simply be used elsewhere or they will be dumped on a kerb near you. Southern Cross Recycling Group dispose of their recyclables, a service that is currently cost neutral, if that was to change and they incurred a cost, it would be a big problem.

Last year 40,000 items were diverted from landfill in the most wonderful way imaginable, to improve the lives of approximately 17,000 children in need. Volunteer inductions emphasise the need to reuse and recycle, educating new starters on what can and cannot be given a new life. The volunteers share Jessica’s passion, there’s approximately 1500 of them, an army of kind souls.

St Kilda Mums receive no government funding and instead rely on the generosity of the community to donate goods and assist with fundraising. As the goods come in, get checked and go back out, there is no question they are achieving their vision - to waste less, share more and care for every baby and child. A vision that saw them win the Community Award and the Premier’s Recognition Award in the 2015 Premier's Sustainability Awards.

I leave the warehouse already planning my next visit, to drop off a bundle of my son’s clothes and toys, the ones that have been retired to the back of the wardrobe or the bottom of the toy box. Learn how you can donate, volunteer or fundraise and support St Kilda MumsEureka Mums in Ballarat or Geelong Mums.

Save Albert Park

You've probably driven past it without a second thought. St Kilda Junction is used as a gateway to ferry busy commuters to and from work. But it also houses one of Melbourne's oldest living things. 

Tucked away in the very south-east corner of Albert Park is the ‘Ngargee’ Tree, a 20 metre, 700 year old, river red gum tree of huge Indigenous significance. It is believed  to be a meeting place for boys who for hundreds of years, would embark on initiation journeys. Women would also meet there before heading to special places on the coast to learn birthing secrets. In recent years, the tree has stood firm despite proposed construction works and vehicle impact. 

For approximately 10 years the elongated pond leading up to the tree sat empty and unloved. That was until late 2017, when Save Albert Park’s group of volunteers took it upon themselves to breathe new life into the pond. They successfully applied for a Small Poppy Neighbourhood Grant from City of Port Phillip Council and set about lining the pond and replanting the area with native vegetation. 

During the lining of the pond other park visitors inquired about the project and insisted on rolling up their sleeves and lending a hand. Parks Victoria endorsed the project and contributed $500 for water plants and native vegetation around the pond. 

On the day I visited, the Corroboree Tree is perfectly reflected in the pond, native birds drink from the pond and swoop down to bathe and a couple sit on the bench overlooking the pond and admire the view. 

"The pond is now full to overflowing and the first aquatic plants have  been set in place. it's being enjoying by park goers and wildlife. We hope we have provided a pond that will reflect the cultural significance Ngargee Tree", said Peter, park volunteer. 

My own reflection as I sat and soaked up the beauty was that, when people come together with a shared vision, great things can happen. 

St Kilda Repair Cafe

The St Kilda Repair Cafe held its first event in December 2017. It offers free repair cafe sessions at the EcoCentre on the second Sunday of each month. 

Volunteer fixers offer their time and skills to repair broken items free of charge. Everything from toasters, lamps, hair dryers, clothes, bikes, toys, crockery; in fact, any broken household item is welcome.

Instead of throwing away broken items they are lovingly brought back to life. This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products, reducing CO2 emissions.

The Repair Cafe highlights how fun repairing things can be, and how easy it often is. The sharing of knowledge and skills also helps to create a sense of community.

Co-ordinator John Hillel explained his motivation for founding the initiative, "I wanted to challenge the assumption that when something needs repair it can just be discarded and replaced with a new one, thus reducing the number of items going to landfill. We must learn to live more sustainably if we are going to have any chance of avoiding environmental and social catastrophe. It's up to us as individuals to take action".

The St Kilda Repair Cafe is a joint initiative between Port Phillip Eco Centre and the Jewish Ecological Coalition. It's one of 1,400 Repair Cafe's worldwide.

If you have a broken item or want to volunteer, make sure you head down to their next event. Find out more about this fantastic initiative here