A clash between a Hunter Men's Shed and the organisation that ran it has led to the men's group being kicked out of its premises.
Hunter Multicultural Communities (HMC) and Waratah Mayfield Men's Shed are in disagreement about what led to the Shed being shut down, with each pointing the finger at the other.
HMC established the Men's Shed in 2015 in a multi-storey community facility it built on its Platt Street site.
After a positive start, HMC says the Shed's name became tarnished after members turned away people from multicultural backgrounds, used racially insensitive language and reduced the amount of work they were doing in the community.
But Shed members say that's not true, and believe they've been kicked out so HMC could charge other groups to use the space and recoup operating costs - a claim that HMC denies.
HMC CEO Annette Gebhardt said there were numerous incidents over the years that caused a breakdown in the relationship.
She said people with foreign sounding last names who applied to the Shed were turned away or sent to the community garden, and that some members used racially insensitive terms such as "wog", which was unacceptable, especially for a multicultural organisation.
"That term is absolutely offensive and hasn't been used since the '70s, these people blatantly go around utilising these terms and the HMC cannot be associated with that," she said.
Former president Phil Nash admitted to using the term, but the Shed denies turning away or shunning people because of their background.
"I find that rather offensive," former president Gary Wiggins said. "We had Aboriginal members, Italian, Greek. We used some nicknames for each other, but we don't do it with any offense. We do it to stir each other up."
"I'm Aboriginal and blokes called me Blackfella," Tony Hedges said. "It didn't worry me."
A drop in the amount of community work the Shed was doing was also a point of concern for HMC.
"They neglected every single relationship [in the community]. They had zero interest in maintaining any relationships," Ms Gebhardt said.
"They wanted a men's clubhouse and they wanted us to fund it."
Shed members say they couldn't promote themselves for work, as per the Australian Men's Shed guidelines to not detract business from qualified tradespeople, but said they never refused work that came in. They said COVID-19 also had an impact on the number of jobs they were asked to do.
"If we were asked to do it by the community, we'd do it," Mr Hedges said.
"The work used to come to us," Mr Nash said. "They wanted us to go out and look for it."
Towards the end, Ms Gebhardt said there were only three people using the Shed some days and the organisation offered them a smaller space behind the main Shed to use when they liked, and the larger space one day a week.
This was so HMC could open the main space up to other groups, such as women and veterans, some of which would be charged a "contribution" to use the space. HMC also said attracting other groups such as veterans with PTSD would mean they could apply for more grants.
Shed members said this made them feel they were being pushed out so HMC could recoup costs.
For example, HMC told the Shed its running expenses were about $60,000 a year and that they wanted them to increase their membership.
"We're not there to make money, we're there to benefit the community," Mal Brooks said.
"They kept trying to control us and it felt like they didn't want us there," Mr Hedges said.
"We had no problem with other groups coming in, but not at the exclusion of us," Mr Nash said.
Ms Gebhardt said HMC was not-for-profit and the change wasn't about commercialising the space.
"What we were trying to demonstrate to them is that three people sitting around and doing nothing is not viable for the HMC," Ms Gebhardt said.
"The facility was built for community purposes and it was underutilised, so what we were saying to them is 'we would like you to increase your membership and we want to use the facility to benefit as many people as possible, just to give you an idea this is how much it costs to run the operation so for you to use it as a clubhouse for 3-5 people a day and maybe have a barbecue once a week and have 10-15 people there, it really doesn't make sense'."
But members say the idea of a Men's Shed is to have a place to go and socialise without having to do work.
"It was a social venue to get away from the social isolation some men have at home," Graham Wilson said. "For me it was just mainly a place to get away from my woes. These are men at the end of their working life, we don't want to be made to do stuff."
Members also felt they were left with nothing after raising a fair amount of money.
"When they shut us down we lost everything - we had $17,000 in the bank and tools," William Teasdale said.
"When people made a donation, they thought they were making it to a Men's Shed, not to HMC," member Lachlan Hazlett said.
But the HMC said all assets belonged to them as the Shed was their program.
"We are the owners of the property, the premises, the assets and everything that goes with that," Ms Gebhardt said.
HMC is in the process of rebranding a new community shed, which they said a majority of the former Men's Shed members would be invited back to. They said they're not sure how many days it will run.
But members The Herald spoke to indicated they wouldn't return.
"I'm really alarmed at the way the whole thing was handled," Mr Wiggins said. "All the guys are really devastated. For a lot of them it meant everything."
"I won't go back - it just won't be the same," Graham Wilson said. "They've said it will be a community shed, which is a very general term, I don't know what they mean.
"It was somewhere men could go and talk about their health," Mr Hedges said. "I'll try find somewhere else."
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