Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Golden Boys – Men’s Shed Llandod

Tony White and Sean Tohill
“Somewhere for men to meet new friends, work on group or individual projects, learn new skills or just chill out and relax, to help prevent social isolation, frustration and boredom.”

The ‘Shed’ movement is slowly but surely spreading throughout the UK. One of its aims is to tackle loneliness and social isolation by creating community spaces where men can feel at home and work on projects in a safe and friendly venue.

Their local Shed is a great space to share skills and socialise with other men from the neighbourhood. Ultimately the men may regain a sense of purpose and find that their general wellbeing improves.

At the time of writing there are two Men's Sheds in Powys, one in Knighton and another near Llandrindod Wells. The Llandod Shed is based at Ashfield Community Enterprise in Howey, just a couple of miles south of the town. It was officially opened on 10 June 2017 by Assembly Member Kirsty Williams. Members Nigel Frankland, Sean Tohill and Tony White, who all helped set up the Shed, told me more about it.

How did you identify the need for the Men’s Shed?

We’d seen about it on the internet – how it was all over the UK. This was about two and a half years ago. Once we put feelers out it became apparent that a lot of men out there are at a loose end and have become socially isolated. Me for one! Some of us have had to retire from work for health reasons and we’d only go out of the house if we had to. If there wasn’t a need to go shopping, for example, we might not even bother getting dressed! We put posters around town about the Men’s Shed and men got in touch to find out more.

How did your involvement start? What was your role in making it happen?

We looked around for a location for a while but nothing suitable came up in Llandrindod town centre. Then we became aware of this space at Ashfield Community Enterprise. We put out an appeal for equipment on Facebook and Freecycle and were inundated with donations. We’ve had £1000 worth of tools given to us by people who no longer need the kit, everything from sliding mitre saws and plane thicknessers to work benches and loads of hand tools.

Now if people want to make donations we ask them to get in touch to discuss what they have. Having said that we are keen to acquire a standing pillar drill, and also a computer and printer! And we accept donations of timber to make products. In the early days we were also pleased to receive a £1000 grant from Greggs and other small grants from local groups.

Nigel Frankland (foreground)
Tell me more about what happens at the Men’s Shed?

We come in twice a week. We could be working on individual or group projects using the kit. A lot of the time we stand and talk – which does a world of good! We have a laugh, a joke, and a cup of coffee. One of the Ashfield staff said to me once: “It’s lovely to walk past the Shed and hear laughter.” We get on and do things. At the end of the day we’re here to have fun.

One of the members has dementia, and it was three to four months before he mentioned this to the others. “I have good days and bad days. I come here to unwind and relax. There’s no major pressure.”

Another member said “I was banned from my own shed by ‘senior management’ so I come here instead!”

Some people can’t always have a shed of their own at home. And even for those that do there is so much more space and equipment here. And there is an opportunity to learn new skills – one of the members is a very experienced woodworker.

Who can join?

It is open to all men aged 18 and over. The annual fee is £5, plus it’s £1 to attend a session. At the moment we are open for business on Tuesday and Thursdays between 10am – 1pm.

We also welcome “ladies by arrangement!” Particularly those who want to learn skills or have skills they can pass on. We have actually been approached by three women who want to learn how to make things like shave horses and three legged stools, so we will be running a session for them soon.

If the members didn’t have the Shed what would they be doing?

Well I would be climbing up the wall! I’m the sort of person that if I’m not doing something then it drives me nuts!

How does attending a Men’s Shed impact on men’s emotional wellbeing?

For most of the time I feel a lot happier once I’ve been to a session. We laugh and joke and I look forward to coming to the next session, which has to be a bonus.

So many people get stuck, trapped in their jobs – having to pay the mortgage, having to put food on the table. Yet some of them have no career prospects. These days there are few places to learn skills such as woodwork, bricklaying and plumbing. People aspire to white collar jobs and most go to university. Someone could come here for a year and learn something and set themselves up in business. The future of the country is in Small Medium Enterprises, not big business!

Do you network with other Men’s Sheds?

We are in contact with the Shed in Knighton – we visit each other and swap tips and ideas. They are in a similar position to us – looking for funding to pay their running costs.

Hereford Shed has also been in touch recently – their members want to make a visit.

The umbrella body for Men’s Sheds in Wales is – Men’s Sheds Cymru. We were the first Shed in Wales to be issued with the organisation’s new golden badges – and that is where the name The Golden Boys came from.

Where did the idea for Men’s Sheds come from? I read: “Women talk to each other, men like to talk while immersing themselves in a task.”

It was an Australian idea originally. They noticed that amongst men and women who had the same operation, on the same day, in the same theatre, with the same surgeon, that the women were much quicker in their recovery.

The men that were recovering turned out to be commercial fishermen. These men were not governed in their work by the clock, but by Nature. After fishing trips they would sit together to mend their nets and chat.

99% of Australian Sheds are government funded because they realise the value of them.

The first Men’s Shed in England and Wales opened in Hartford, Cheshire, in 2009. There are now nearly 300 Sheds across the UK.

Do you take part in other activities apart from those in the Shed?

At some Men’s Sheds the members fix bicycles or cars for people in the community, but most are based around woodwork. We need to look at our communities and see what is required. Members of our Shed have done gardening for people locally in the past and also refurbished council benches in town.

What is the most challenging part of your roles?

Trying to find a market for the products that we make in the Shed. We need to earn an income so that we can cover our running costs (rent and utility bills). The grants are never big enough or long enough! 3 – 5 year funding would be ideal. Organisations need stable funding.

To raise money we have made everything from planters, bird tables and owl boxes to Recycling Crate shelves (a bargain £35!). Local delivery can be arranged in return for a donation. The members also take on commissions – we are currently refurbishing the cold frames at Ashfield, have made signs for GP surgeries, and benches for other local charities. Occasionally we will have a market stall in Llandrindod on Fridays. At the same time we try not to turn it into a job as that is not what the idea of the Shed is all about…

What advice would you give to men hoping to set up a Shed in their community?

Go for it! You don’t need lots of equipment to start out with, just a few hand tools and some premises. Give it a go, and good luck!

Many thanks to Nigel, Sean and Tony for telling us all about The Golden Boys! If you want to find out more about the Llandod Men’s Shed you can contact Nigel by emailing thedoddyfixersmensshed@gmail.com

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