When the primary cheese plant at our Stanhope factory in northern Victoria was destroyed by a fire in 2014, a major reconstruction project was required to fix it – meaning a considerable number of materials were needed, from fresh timber to new machinery and stainless-steel vats.
But while one door was closing, another was opening.
When the rebuild got underway, we made a pact with Des and the shed — retired Fonterra employees among its ranks — to donate any surplus materials from the project to the shed.
“That’s how it started – Fonterra needed to get rid of it, and we wanted to use it,” says Des.
“Every time they unpacked something over there, we went over with our trailer and carted it back here for use, and that’s been going on ever since. Parts of the shed itself were constructed using its leftover materials, as were some of the sheds we built to store things in.
“The partnership has been continuously fruitful since then with Fonterra sending 50 large trailer loads of materials each year our way.
“Anything they have in the factory that’s surplus, we’re interested in. I’m now in there once a fortnight,” Des says.
In fact, in 2019 the Australian Men’s Shed Association awarded Stanhope Men’s Shed with ‘Outstanding Recycling/Upcycling Activity’ for its partnership with Fonterra.
“It was a huge moment for the shed,” Des says.
Members of the shed can use the materials freely to build any number of items, which are often sold to the local community to raise funds for the shed. With the donations we raise $5,000 a year which is used for new tools and maintaining the shed.
It also brings men in the local community together — the effects of which Des says has been life-changing.
“Loneliness is a terrible thing. In elderly people especially, who’ve lost their partners or friends.
“There are people in the town that you often saw wandering around, looking for something to do. They took some convincing to come to the shed, but once I was able to get them in, they’ve never been happier and healthier.
“I’ve seen many cases where it’s changed people’s lives – just becoming a member has really turned things around for them.
“It’s become a place that helps men to discuss their problems, rather than hiding them away. They’re far more likely to talk to other blokes the same age as them than go to a nurse or doctor. It really has improved people’s health in a lot of ways.”
As Treasurer and Coordinator of the shed, Des often arranges for health check-ups — such as hearing tests and eye tests — to happen at the shed, as well as various talks and speeches. “The place is usually packed out when we have those things happening,” he says.
“Our relationship with Fonterra allows us do a lot of good things in the community - we can give people something to do and a place that fills a gap in their life.”
Frank DiFede is the Production Manager at our Stanhope site and has worked there for 27 years. He heads up the partnership from Fonterra’s side and organises the materials going to the Men’s Shed.
“The materials we donate would normally be sent to landfill or mulched into woodchip, so for us it’s not just about supporting the local community, it’s also a good way to reduce our impact on the environment.
“We always look for ways to support our community, not just one offs, but for the long term, and our partnership with the Men’s Shed is a great example of this.
“It’s something that our people and our farmers are really proud of,” says Frank.