Social connections enhanced

SOCIAL connection in Gannawarra shire will strengthen from Monday (June 1), with community centres, Men's Sheds and libraries among organisations permitted to reopen their doors.

Initially, up to 20 people will be permitted in a single space, subject to the one person per four square metre rule.

The need to ensure appropriate COVID-19 safety protocols are in place means some organisations won't be ready to open immediately restrictions ease.

That is consistent with advice from the Victorian Men's Shed Association (VMSA), with its executive officer Ric Blackburn encouraging those in charge of individual sheds not to rush into reopening.

"People who are opening sheds should be checking to make sure the equipment is safe and they have all their policies and procedures and cleaning rosters (organised) before they open again," Mr Blackburn said.

He noted work has been going on in the background at many Men's Sheds to ensure they will be ready to open as soon as it is safe to do so.

"It's a matter of life and death, so we want to make sure that everybody is safe and able to enjoy a return to community groups," Mr Blackburn said.

While all community organisations have maintained as many services as possible during the lockdown period, a return to face-to-face interaction will be welcomed by many people.

Harry Sambrooks, coordinator of Kerang Men's Shed recently told Gannawarra Times that although men have been taking home projects to work on, some have struggled emotionally without the social environment of the shed.

Mr Blackburn stressed the importance each Men's Shed plays in its town and the mutual benefits that will flow from their reopening.

"It is an extraordinary opportunity for men to benefit from fellowship and activity, but also to contribute to their community," he said.

Gannawarra shire's community centre and neighbourhood house operators are upbeat about the prospect of reopening their doors, but some will do so sooner than others.

Quambatook Community Resource Centre will open immediately restrictions ease, with coordinator Annie Meadows explaining that in its case there is not much organisation required to ensure a safe environment for all.

"We don't tend to have many large groups of people come in anyway, so we'll be pretty much operating per normal," Ms Meadows said.

Precautions will include sanitising computers after every use to ensure they are safe for the next person.

Some activities will remain off limits for now.

"We have got an exercise group that's waiting for the next step of restrictions to be eased, because it's an indoor exercise group," Ms Meadows said.

"We'll be able to look at our programming now and see what we can and can't do."

Meghan Stewart, manager of Kerang and District Community Centre (KDCC) is also excited to be reopening, but noted there is plenty to organise first and she will determine a suitable opening date as she implements requirements.

"We're making sure we have processes in place to keep people safe, that we're following all the social distancing recommendations and have a COVID safe plan," Ms Stewart said.

"I'm keen to have all my staff and volunteers do an online course around infection control."

She believes that will assist in ensuring a common understanding of required safety measures that must be implemented and maintained.

Ms Stewart explained the KDCC continued to provide emergency relief services to community members throughout the lockdown and will keep doing so.

Linedancing was run by the centre prior to COVID-19, but such social activities will be on hold until restrictions are lessened further.

Gannawarra Shire Council is yet to announce when it will reopen its libraries.

Council's director of community wellbeing, Stacy Williams said council will open facilities as soon as it is can, while ensuring the safety of customers and staff.

"The reopening of these facilities will be promoted to the community via our website, social media accounts and Gannawarra News," Ms Williams said.