27 September 2023

Have shed, have van, now Canberra women on the move to help their own

| Sally Hopman
Sunita Kotnala is welcomed by Elycia from Barnardos Youth Services.

Sunita Kotnala (right) is welcomed by Elycia from Barnardos Youth Services on a recent trip to help young women learn building skills. Photo: Supplied.

They are the sort of little jobs around the house that drive you crazy – fixing a screen door, replacing a tap washer or mending a cupboard that refuses to close.

Despite being small jobs, the self-satisfaction when you know how to fix them, couldn’t be greater.

It’s all about a sense of empowerment and that’s exactly what Sunita Kotnala had in mind when she helped to set up Canberra’s first Women’s Shed about three years ago.

At the height of COVID, Ms Kotnala had just moved to Canberra from Sydney. Like so many others, she felt isolated, not knowing many people and unable to go out.

“In Sydney, I had learned how to use power tools through SALT (Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen) and was keen to do something similar in Canberra,” Ms Kotnala said.

She said it was all about identifying an opportunity to “inspire, create and build community cohesiveness” through learning how to use power tools and trade skills to improve day-to-day life.

Ms Kotnala said the idea behind the Women’s Shed Canberra was to make it a place where women of all backgrounds, ethnicities, orientations and ability could meet, get inspired, create – and build things.

“Many women have always wanted to build or repair things but have not had the skills to do so or a space to use,” she said. “Women’s Shed Canberra provides the opportunity to develop new skills.”

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When COVID restrictions lifted, Ms Kotnala was chatting with a friend in her local community garden, talking about how great it would be to have a space where they could practise their power tool skills and perhaps share knowledge with other women.

“I couldn’t help but think about how many women must live with broken things because they don’t have the skills or confidence to fix them,” she said.

“There are only about 1 per cent to 2 per cent of women represented in the building industry – that’s something we’d like to see change.

“Some of the women who’ve been working with us have now developed these skills, some help their children build objects, others do it themselves – we’ve had women build tables, decks … lots of different things.

“Most of the women come from professional backgrounds, academics, researchers, women who’ve been in high-ranking jobs who just want to learn how to use power tools.

“They come to the shed to learn these new skills, some to gain confidence, and they end up finding themselves working in a great community of women.”‘

Today, the news just gets better for the Women’s Shed Canberra.

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Thanks to a Stronger Communities Grant from the ACT Government, it has bought a van to take the women’s shed, and its tools, to wherever is needed. It also received funding towards a coordinator to drive the mobile shed.

For the past three years, Women’s Shed Canberra has operated two days a week from Thor’s Hammer and Hughes Community Shed. Many of the original members remain active while others have come and gone once they’ve acquired the skills they need or finished their special project.

“We realised that not many women from vulnerable backgrounds were attending the sessions at Thor’s or Hughes, nor were many young members due to life admin issues,” Ms Kotnala said.

Women builders

Members of the Women’s Shed Canberra work on a project at the Hughes Community Shed. Photo: Supplied.

“One of the main reasons for this was a lack of transport options. Having a mobile shed means we can take the opportunity to acquire new skills and build new friendships with groups of women who are unable to attend.

“We are very excited to be able to offer a mobile service in addition to our activities at Thor’s Hammer and Hughes Community Shed.”

The plan is to take the van to places such as Barnardo’s in Canberra, out to the new housing developments where neighbours are yet to meet each other – and wherever else it is needed.

The Mobile Women’s Shed is officially launching today at Thor’s Hammer, 10 Mildura Street, Griffith.

More information about Women’s Shed Canberra is available online.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on Riotact.

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