Real-life 'Santa's workshop' repairs toys for Western Sydney University Early Learning Hawkesbury

Hawkesbury's very own toy workshop was toiling away in the lead-up to Christmas with a group of real-life 'Santas' repairing toys for children.

Under a new partnership between Western Sydney University Early Learning Hawkesbury (WSUEL) and the Hawkesbury Valley Men's Shed, men found a sense of purpose after the isolation challenges of Covid-19.

Tasked with repairing childcare equipment in these economically challenging times, staff from WSUEL approached the local Men's Shed to see if they could assist. The result was a lesson in the importance of community, sustainability - and a new doll's house.

"We thought approaching the Hawkesbury Valley Men's Shed would be a perfect way to repair our furniture and resources, while at the same time build an important community relationship and teach the kids about sustainability. The Men's Shed didn't hesitate to be involved," said Acting Director, WSUEL, Catherine Dunk.

"As the men skillfully fixed numerous toys and bits of our equipment, we were able to teach the kids how important it is that we try to repurpose and rebuild our resources instead of throwing things out. Largely due to this partnership, we haven't had to throw out any equipment or toys in 2020.

"This partnership has also allowed the children at our Centre to feel somewhat connected to the community during Covid-19, which is important as the children haven't had any visitors from the community this year which hasn't been easy."

Hawkesbury Valley Men's Shed Secretary Leon Walker said his team were delighted when the childcare centre approached them.

"The men were cracking their necks to come back after the Covid lockdown, so having a project like this was incredibly rewarding," he said.

"The men's shed was originally set up to support local men who might be experiencing low self-esteem and isolation; but it's also a fantastic pooling of skills. While some men just come for a cup of tea and a chat, we have some very skilled members who have found themselves at a loose end in retirement, so projects like this are perfect."

This isn't the first time that WSUEL has engaged the local community in projects, with on-going relationships with the likes of Richmond Fruit Market, Hawkesbury's Helping Hands and Western Sydney University Campus staff.

"We believe community involvement is vital in providing children and families with a sense of belonging, and for building the foundations to be active community members. Children feel more connected to their environment and their peers. They develop a stronger sense of identity, self-esteem, confidence and empathy and learn to develop relationships with others," said Ms Dunk.

With Covid-19 restrictions slowly easing, Ms Walker said that didn't mean the new relationship would end any time soon: "We are now not only fixing equipment, but providing equipment, after a local donated a doll's house. We are currently fixing it (and painting it rainbow!) for the children."