Thought Provoking Accidents

“Accidental incidents” might be a better way to describe what provoked my thoughts. They all happened during journeys.

First up, the journey from Melbourne Airport to “our family” in Sale (a 3.5 hour trip on a good day). It was by a mini-coach service that operates 3 days a week and collects and delivers people to the door.

We were the furthest passengers from Melbourne so we ended up with the driver Louise, and her 8 year old granddaughter riding shot gun, on our own. Conversation ensued and, of course, up cropped Sheds from me! Louise countered with alpacas!

She used to breed and show them but now she visits Care Homes with them as a volunteer on a regular basis. They are friendly creatures! (the alpacas I mean, not the residents, though they may be also). The granddaughter has just attended her first competition and won an award. Great to see the bond between grandma and granddaughter and the positive grooming involved. Stretching the girl!

Louise knew precisely the good Sheds do for people, keeping minds, bodies and wills active.

The return trip on the Gippy Shuttle (the area is Gippsland) had a lady driver too, Brook. We were on the coach first with her and so we talked from the start. Her father (84) attends a Men’s Shed and he made a lovely garden seat for her now situated under a tree in her garden. Brook’s husband is 45 but he cannot work because of something like MS. He tires very quickly. He would love to attend a Shed but he lacks the stamina. Brook is his carer.

Brook’s husband was a panel beater and mechanic and still has the knowledge. Therefore they have taken to restoring cars together, as and when he feels able.

Brook also volunteers with her church on administration once a week. The town churches of all denominations work together on some joint ventures including a drop in/cafe for young people called the Crazy Cow. I like that!

There is also a charity shop the churches jointly run and I think a food bank too. Charity shops are called Op Shops in Australia because they give opportunities to volunteer and that can be a stepping stone to work.

There is a new venture her church is embarking on to help young people to learn trades. It is a collaboration with an organisation who will provide the training mentors, with Brook’s church providing the premises.

Both were unexpected conversations that reveal the degree to which volunteering is an expected and appreciated contribution for people to make in Australia. It is talked about (I’ve noted that on previous visits). It is community payback to maintain community well-being.

On the two flight legs from Melbourne to Newcastle I watched a couple of documentaries which got me thinking. Plus Asterix the Gaul for knockabout fun.

The first documentary was “They Shall Not Grow Old” about the first World War. It comprised original film (cleverly remastered) and commentary from old soldiers first hand. Many were little older than boys when they signed up.

The film showed the graphic horror of men and horses shot or blown apart. It is unimaginable what they went through and accepted as their duty. The toll was huge in both deaths and life changing casualties.

However for me there was a greater horror towards the end of the documentary. War over on 11/11/1918. Men returned to UK and demobbed. Then mass unemployment but the documentary pointed to something worse than that. It was the fact that those at home did not necessarily welcome these heroes back. Many had disabilities and trauma. Job vacancies sometimes said “no ex-soldiers”.

Why? There was little comprehension at home of what the real experiences of war were. It was as if there was no shared language and shared understanding of the concepts involved to be able to talk about the war and many, of course, found it hard to do so if there was, like those who came back and those at home who had been bereaved.

It caused me to reflect on Brexit and the divisions in comprehension that will make any sort of healing unity so difficult for years to come. All we can do – and it is one of the wonders of volunteering – is to try to NOT spot or taste the difference when it comes to building our local community up. In helping Whitby irrespective of politics we are helping things to be better for ourselves and our loved ones and particularly the young on whom we shall depend!

The second documentary was on a more cheerful topic, child’s play. The first half was about how animals romp and spar together as part of their learning to cope with adult life.

The second half considered that in the context of children. The amount of OUTSIDE play that children do in a day is down to minutes whereas TV, electronic games etc can occupy hours a day. The obsession with gaming, the trend towards IT supported learning and parents fears of stranger danger have let to the lack of exposure to simple play that previous generations enjoyed.

Is it healthy? The first screen shot on the plane grabbed by attention. It is true of what we do in Sheds. We need play, involving others but also on our own to combat depression.

There has been research in this field for decades but increasingly the developed world over there is growing concern about children’s mental health. We hear about it in our news in UK.

Scandinavian research points to the need for “risky play”. Letting kids be challenged in play in order to learn coping strategies for life. Let kids use (apparently) hazardous tools, engage in rough and tumble, do things at speed sometimes and get up to the heights (on equipment and in trees) and even do dangerous elements.

Kids will get hurt sometimes but there is no such thing as a risk free adult life. Kids need to learn to make judgements over identifying and minimising risks.

It is what is being done in Beavers, Cubs and Scouts and in the Kidz Making Good workshop programme.

Hey ho and back to Whitby with Volunteers’ Week coming up in early June.

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