Men in Sheds

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I managed to infiltrate the Men in sheds workshop in Loxley House. After my visit to volunteer for The Stroke Association earlier in the year I had heard about a group of men who were meeting in their very own version of a shed. Despite being a men only zone, and for very good reasons, I was warmly welcomed. Men meet there to gain male companionship and to learn and share skills. It was an idea from Australia for men to meet in a designated place rather like a shed but much bigger with better tools and without a broken sun lounger and with the added advantage of working alongside other people. Men of retirement age might find themselves at a loose end with little to do. They may become isolated after they finish work and find activities on offer in the community not to their liking. It has been a global idea that means over 1000 sheds now run in Australia and over 80 are now in the UK; with the first one in Cheshire. Men can be referred by a health professional or self refer, and then come along to see what it is all about. Some men live alone and others are married. Some have disabilities, have had a stroke or are just looking for something to do. Most however are over 50 with a desire to work with their hands and learn new skills. Mike Barlow runs the project on behalf of Age UK Tameside and showed me around the rather large and impressive ‘shed’. He explained that men might find reaching out for help or company not very easy and their health may deteriorate without them even noticing if they are on their own. He told me about the bees they keep and his vision for the future which would include a ‘Men in Kitchens’ where men can learn how to cook.

When I arrived there were some ‘Shedders’ sat in the corner of the room chatting. Mike said there wasn’t any pressure to make anything and chatting was fine if people wanted. Volunteers come with many skills including one person who worked in the velodrome fixing bikes who comes in once a week to teach bicycle repairs. One volunteer who had retired and wanted to support people with wood working skills was building a door for an older lady who needed her door replaced. There was lots of equipment and tools in the room and Shedders are encouraged to go at their pace and explore their own projects but they often help others by building a wheelchair ramp, helping with repairs or making gifts.

I was welcomed as a ‘Shedette’ for the day and I practised a new skill, the art of pyrography. Pyrography is burning patterns, images or words into wood and I learnt how to do it with a wood burning pen. It wasn’t that easy at first because you had to get the pressure right but after a few turns I was happily working away. There was lots of banter between all the men in the room, working or not, and it was a lovely atmosphere but it was time for me to go. Not being a man and having no real skills to share I needed to leave and find my own way to volunteer. I also felt the banter would be different if the men were alone which was part of the point. I don’t even think a false beard would have helped.

There was one way I could volunteer and that was to get the men to the shed. Many booking their own transportation but sometimes they need help to get there and need drivers to volunteer their time when necessary. This is something volunteers with cars do in many different sectors. Either to get people to groups or appointments they need to attend. You let the organisation know when you are available, they let you know when you are needed, give you the address and you take the person to where they need to go and get your petrol reimbursed. It was an easy and simple way to share my driving skills to help others; no certificate in woodwork or a false moustache needed. If you think you can help get the men to their shed by offering to drive them when needed, can offer a skill, or know someone who would benefit from this great service then you can contact Mike Barlow via email barlowm@ageuktameside.com