‘What do local women need?’
That was the simple question asked at an International Women’s Day event at the Lithgow Library and Learning Centre; a simple question which became the catalyst for the Lithgow Area Women’s Shed.
The aim of the Lithgow Area Women’s Shed (LAWS) is to ‘provide a place where all women in the Lithgow area are welcome to come and join us’ and a strong emphasis is on ‘building women’.
Offering friendship, acceptance and a safe place, the Shed gives women an opportunity to become more confident in their abilities, learn new skills and share ideas.
In a nutshell, it’s all about empowering women.
President Leanne Hopkins and committee member Gabrielle Kirby are both passionate advocates for the Shed and are excited to watch it evolve.
For Leanne personally joining the group was a natural choice and throughout her professional life she has witnessed the benefits of feeling connected for both individuals and the community.
“Most of my life I’ve worked in community service sector, so I know there’s a big need out there for people to be connected to the community. So when this (the Women’s Shed) was mentioned I just thought, ‘That’s a great base to start with’ basically. You know, learn skills, people become independent, make things – that just makes people happy. They’re in an environment where they can talk to other people, creating that really nice happy space,” she says.
Although the group aspect is very important, of equal importance is the opportunity for individuals to choose their level of participation on any given day.
“The individual can choose what they’re going to do, to what extent they’re going to become involved. It’s not regimented.”
“I just think it’s something really positive to build,” Leanne says.
Gabrielle shares some of Leanne’s reasons for joining the group, and is keen to learn new skills of her own which will help in everyday life.
“I’m a bit like Leanne. In my working life I’ve been involved in education, I’ve worked in child protection, domestic violence, disabilities. So I’ve got a bit of an overview of some of the needs… wanting to be able to engage people from the community. But also for myself, being able to learn those skills too and be able to think, ‘oh I don’t have to pay $70 for a plumber to come to the door’,” she says.
“We also see it as very much a women’s mental health issue,” says Gabrielle.
“You get women who have had all sorts of experiences that haven’t been good for them, then to have somewhere they can come and know that they’re learning to be able to do things that previously they’ve thought they couldn’t do (is important),” she says.
While the Men’s Shed movement is very well-known across the country, Women’s Sheds are still comparatively few and far between, although they are gaining plenty of momentum.
LAWS members are understandably thrilled with the response they have received from local organisations who have lent their support and expertise to the cause.
“It’s been on the whole a really positive experience,” says Leanne.
Unlike some other Women’s Sheds, LAWS will be focussing on learning to use power tools and other construction based learning, as opposed to things like craft.
“We’re tool based, because there’s already quite a few craft centres,” explains Leanne.
They also have plans to implement gardening into their activities when they find a suitable premises – at time of print, the next big task for the Lithgow Area Women’s Shed was to find a permanent home to allow them to really start building and creating.
One thing is certain – LAWS are a group to watch.
“We’re thinking big,” says Gabrielle.