Bethlehem House

The Rotary Club of North Hobart, Tas, has been supporting Bethlehem House – a homeless men’s shelter run by St Vincent de Paul Society – in a quiet way for several years, donating goods for their ‘Socks, Chocs and Jocks’ Christmas appeal and food leftover from barbecues. In recent years, with changes to the home physically and administratively, this relationship has become stronger and more strategic.

When a purpose-built facility was constructed in the city centre, club treasurer Brian Claridge and hands-on volunteers Jim Colley and Tony Thompson, liaised with Bethlehem House Executive Manager Stephen Shreeve to propose a district grant, supported by The Rotary Foundation, to beautify the facility’s rooftop courtyard after its opening.

The club has donated small tables and chairs as well as numerous potted plants for the area, providing natural elements and some private spaces in common areas for residents.

Tony described the collaborative project as “a whole lot of fun”, while Jim said it gives him a lovely feeling to work with friends and residents, knowing they have made a difference. The three amigos are regulars, but other club members have also helped with various gardening tasks at working bees.

“Our men are saying that they enjoy going out there now, that it feels more homely and more in touch with nature having so many plants around,” Stephen said.

“The men want to be there more, and a natural consequence is that they are talking more to each other at the tables, which is very therapeutic for them.

“It also shows them that they are worth investing in. This is a huge thing and is part of our ethos to restore dignity. By making a good area great it shows the men we care for them.

“So many of our men have had a life of feeling worthless and have had to live in sub-standard conditions, so for them to see this is a real turnaround to what they are used to,” Stephen said.

And it’s not just the men at Bethlehem House who have benefited from the project. Brian said that from a men’s health perspective, having a hands-on project like this also benefits the Rotary volunteers by giving them a deep sense of satisfaction.

“It’s one of the reasons I keep coming to Rotary,” Brian said. “I can see us helping meet a need. We enjoy the banter as we work, and as we get to know each other and our friends at Bethlehem House we feel a strong sense of purpose and belonging.”

MAIN PICTURE: Rotary Club of North Hobart members Jim Colley, left, Tony Thompson and Brian Claridge have been working with men’s homeless shelter Bethlehem House to create a restful courtyard garden on the roof of the shelter’s new premises. The space provides residents with an opportunity to connect with nature and also with each other. (Photo: Paul Guo)