When Women Take Over a Shed
As I walked in to the Women’s Shed on Boundary Street, tucked behind the Uniting Church Lifeworks building, I was warmly welcomed for my second visit by the Founder and the absolute mainstay, Jean Turner.
What had drawn me back? It was an apron. Well a dozen aprons in fact. After my first visit to interview Jean, I put on my other hat as part of the Collaboration Team for Word Fest Toowoomba and saw how the work of these generous women could be supported by our fledgling festival and at the same time, provide us with aprons to identify our own volunteers. So I was there to collect aprons…..and once again marvel at the work done by Jean and her marvellous crew.
Our crew are certainly going to stand out!
Nine years ago, Jean started collecting material and making draw-string bags for charities in a pergola at the back of her daughter’s house at Gowrie Junction. Sending these bags to charities all over the East Coast of Australia for various uses was just the beginning. The needs and requests grew, and so did the happy band of women sewers who Jean recruited, nurtured, trained and supervised along the way. Some of the women have been alongside Jean fir that whole time, The pergola soon outgrew its capacity and the search for a permanent and much bigger premises was on.
Thanks to the support from a local Member of Parliament making people aware of the great work being done, the Uniting Church offered the empty shed on land at the back of the Church building. It had a concrete floor, walls and a roof. Initially the sewing took up about a third of the space, but now every square inch is being utilised, and has even spilled over in to storage in a container outside. The donations just keep coming.
The permanent sewing machines the women are using to make the many baby clothes, aprons, reusable hygiene products, quilts and many more were purchased from the proceeds of making masks and selling them during the COVID pandemic, and with the help of grants, the top of the shed has now been insulated to make the seasonal weather changes easier to work in.
Community supports by bringing in materials and Jean is always looking for more support so that the grant writing time and huge effort does not take her away from the core reason for having started the project in the first place. The donation of the shed and the pepper-corn rent requested by the Uniting Church is a life-saver. Sadly, big business here in Toowoomba does not offer competitive prices, and often Jean sources here accessory such as cottons, wadding etc from outside the local community.
Jean is a humble ‘doer’ who has enabled many, many women to find a niche for their time and talents. The social aspect of working together is very strong, and the harmonious atmosphere Shines through. While there are not so many young people coming along behind these wonderful volunteers, often the school holidays brings grandchildren in to learn the ropes and help out. This is a good sign for the future of the venture – particularly as the numbers of women needing support through domestic violence situations, or homeless youth or older women are on the rise.
Jean’s vision for the future is for the Women’s Shed to be looking after the needy – really giving that focus to those with medical needs etc. “We have tried to get our message out there that we are here to help, but we need the charities, schools, and individuals to tell us what they need, so we can provide it. “