It’s a big thing for me to be able to offer help

By Peter Richards, from the Ravenswood Neighbourhood House.

Peter’s story also appears in “It’s a Starting Point“. Thanks to Peter and Neighbourhood Houses Tasmania for sharing it on the BLB.


What’s important is being able to help people, the ability to help people. Because now that I’m right I’ve got a lot of life experiences, and now if somebody says they’re a bit down, I don’t have the certificates or anything, but I’ve got the ability to talk to people.

To tell you the truth I didn’t know the Neighbourhood House was here and being a gardener for a long, long time, I had a lot of vegetables left over from my garden. I’ve only got a very small back yard, but it’s always growing. It was the next door neighbour—I was talking about all the spares, mostly tomatoes, pumpkins and such, ’cause I got them into gardening as well, and she told me about the House. She got the number for the House and I rang them up and asked them if they’d like all the spare vegetables. Well they jumped at it. Two ladies came up and they picked them and invited me to come down to the House.

Having had depression pretty bad for quite some time I didn’t want to mingle but after several trips up there to get vegetables, I sort of thought “yeah I’d come down there and then shoot home” sort of thing, safety you know, and it all started from there. I was scared shitless, I was, I was scared shitless. I was worried I’d come in, somebody would say something and I’d jump in the car and leave. That’s how bad it was. When I got paid, I’d just slip down to the shopping centre pay my bills, get food and bang I’d be home. I mean I knew my neighbour, and my neighbour over the back fence, and that’s it. I mean I did my gardening. That’s when I really got stuck into the alcohol badly. But that was the extent of my outings, talking to my neighbours, I was quite comfortable with them although I didn’t explain my situation to them. To actually go out was a big thing, and to come down here and spend a day, wow—unreal. That would be about three years ago, it would have been about February-March that they first came and got the vegetables and I’d come down and go home again and whatever. The two women they said “just come down and meet some people” as I’d already told them what was sort of going on after a while; well, not straight up but I’d told them after a while of visits. They said to just come down and mingle for a while, even if just for half an hour and then go home.

“Just come down every now and then,” that was the start of it.

I was just coming down for half an hour and as soon as I was uncomfortable I’d disappear. And gradually it got longer and longer ’til I was here 2 or 3 hours, ’til it was a couple of days a week and now it’s every day. Now I don’t like being inside, it’s the exact opposite. Gradually I’d get to meet people, find out who they were, what they did. Then I’d started doing little bits and pieces around the house. Like Mr Meet-and-Greet, that’s one of the ones I’ve taken on myself, going down to get Second Bite, bringing down my own vegetables of a Monday. Generally tidy up and put things away and whatever. Then I was invited to join the Board. By this time I’d sort of got myself going reasonable.

Anyway I went on the Board, was pretty quiet for a while and anyway next elections they wanted me to go on again and I said yes and I took on the role of Vice President & Public Officer. And actually we’ve just finished re-doing the constitution. Which is handy for them I’d had a lot of experience before with fishing clubs, associations, state bodies and whatever. And I used what knowledge I did have with another lady from here and we tidied up the constitution and it’s now waiting with the Board to be passed.

Now I know I can come down here and I know there will be people who I can talk to and my involvement with the garden has opened up a whole new field for me with people. And now I’m the head gardener for Pioneer Parade. Pioneer Parade is a community garden. If you want to, you can come in and do some weeding. If you want to, you can come in and take some of the produce. It’s a community garden. I do a fair bit of the work up there, other people come in and get bits and pieces, and what’s left comes down here.

I did all the planning for it because of my background with the gardening business. I worked for two other fellas for ten years, and I took over my own business in 2000 and I ran that for over ten years then. When I stopped that, because of my leg, I still had customers that I used to go and look over. So I was able to put a plan together for them and from there we got all the stuff in. We had working bees, we got it all up and running. Now it’s got to the stage where I go up there one day a week and teach. Showing people the differences between the weeds and the plants and how long it will take to grow, which I enjoy. I love the garden so now I’m gardening with other people and I get on pretty well. There’s four or five blocks of land and Housing Tas. are trying to get an MOU up so I can take over the lot. It’s where the units used to be that got burnt down. I’ve got it so that one block will be for native plants, our garden will be beside it, a play area for the kids, and an orchard. The Neighbourhood House will be signing the MOUs, I’m just doing the planning.

I’ve regained my confidence. I had no confidence in myself or anyone else really. I couldn’t mingle…But now, because of my work here and the understanding I’ve received from the girls in the office I’ve been able to join the Board, I’ve been able to fix their constitution and I do jobs here. I teach up at the garden without anyone from here, and there are other blocks that we’re looking at. There’s Waverly school who are asking for my expert opinion—I hate that word expert, but you know what I mean—on their garden. How to manage it, so that they can get theirs going, so they can get some tutorage. And they’ve asked that I might take six or seven students at a time to show them gardening and what it’s worth and what the vegetables can do for your body. Which is more or less what I do at Pioneer Parade, I teach people the value of fresh fruit and vegetables.

I’ll be doing a yearly planner, when to plant when to stop. I’ll do it as a wagon wheel and I’ll put in the vegetables month by month. They’ll have a wagon wheel of knowledge for the garden or for their own back yards. I want people trained up so that it’s not dependent on me. There’s no guarantee I’ll be around. I mean it didn’t stop when I was in hospital for four weeks. They still went up there and did the weeding and general maintenance and later on down the track they can come on and be the teacher. That’s the pathway I want so that there are others ready to take it on when I’m no longer there.

The thing for me is that with the gardens, I always say, it’s fresh nutritious food and you cut it, you take it home and you cook it. They’ll be healthier, they’ll be getting less sick. Because if you’re fit and well you avoid some of the mental problems that can happen if you’re not fit and well as you’re not up to it. That’s a big thing for me, the mental side. I mean, I’ve been there and done it pretty hard for a long time and it’s a big thing for me to be able to offer help.

At the House, all you’ve got to do is come through that door and help will be offered. There were no questions, you just come in and people talk to you. But you come in and if you want to pour your guts out, they’ll lock the door so it’s one-on-one. And they don’t ask you questions, they listen. And then if they’ve got something they think might help you they’ll offer it. But they don’t push, that’s what I found. Whereas some places you go there and they say “look if you go and do this you’ll come right in six months”. None of that here, they just ask “how are you going?” There’s no questions, it’s just a friendly place. It’s just like walking inside to your family at the end of the day. And now this is like my family. That’s exactly what they are, and that’s what I say to them when I come in here now, “well, I’m home”. Even when I’m on the door or I go and get Second Bite, or packing the books. Sometimes there might be two or three meetings going. I ask them what they’re after and then I take them where they need to go. Give them the guided tour, it takes a lot of the—it’s not angst but—it makes them feel welcome. It’s not like they’re walking into somebody’s house. People come here they don’t know what to expect and they’re nervous, and all of a sudden you get a big smile, a bearded head and asked “can I help you? What are you after?” Then I take them where they want to go. I take them to Cynthia for a NILS loan and say “I’ve got a couple of guests”. I always call people guests. But it’s making sure people don’t feel anxious when they come through the door. If they come here and I’ve got a sour look on my face, they’re going to think, “well if that’s what the rest of its going to be like I don’t want this” and leave.

What’s important is being able to help people, the ability to help people. Because now that I’m right I’ve got a lot of life experiences, and now if somebody says they’re a bit down, I don’t have the certificates or anything, but I’ve got the ability to talk to people without really asking them questions. And a lot of this came out of Avidity. I did the Cert II for Community Services and that taught me a lot, a hell of a lot, about being able to talk to people without asking the questions. Being able to look at them and listen, take it in and understand, and don’t offer advice unless they want it. Some people just want to get it off their chest and then they’re right they can go home. But if they say “I don’t know what to do” you can offer advice. You just keep talking to them ‘til they get out of you what they want.

There was one person who’d suffered depression, who heard that I’d been through depression and they came and talked to me one day. And I said, “if you ever want to sit down and talk to me and have a chat, you go for your life”. I said, “I’ll listen, if you want me to say something I will, but if you don’t I’ll just listen”. They were really pleased with that. We had two or three chats. It gave them the chance to unload. And it never got deep, or about what caused it, they just wanted to talk to somebody and that helped them. And again I was pretty happy about that, because that’s just one more person who’s got the chance to become who they were before. Most people will be happy with that, if they can get close to what they used to be before they got depression or anxiety or whatever. If they can get close to what they were they’ll be happy. And it’s not about going to a shrink and lying on a couch and counting from one to ten. It’s talking to someone, a kind person, who’s been through the mill. I can learn something from them. The doctor hasn’t been through it.

Anything they’ve got going I’ll put my hand up for and if I don’t like it I’ll just pull out as they know I’ve got a lot on. In fact Nettie keeps telling me I’ve got too much on and I’ve got to cut back. I love me gardening and being outside, but eventually I’d like to take a group to Lake Waverly and show them casting and fishing—take them up there and they can fish to their hearts content. Show them how to kill a trout properly and all that sort of thing.


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