Men’s shed open day celebrates community and companionship

Bridget McIntyre MBE, High Sheriff of Suffolk, cuts the ribbon at the new and improved Debenham Shed

Bridget McIntyre MBE, High Sheriff of Suffolk, cuts the ribbon at the new and improved Debenham Shed - Credit: Archant

As part of the East of England Co-op's #EastTogether campaign, in partnership with Archant, fundraiser and quartermaster Douglas Tatem discusses how the Debenham Shed workshop restores not only tools and equipment – but also restores faith in the community. 

Start by fixing something – no matter how small – and it is amazing what good you can do. That is the example set by a local men’s shed which began by repairing broken tools and has developed into rebuilding an entire community devastated by the pandemic.  

Founded in 2018, Debenham Shed is a non-profit community workshop and skills exchange where members can engage in handiwork and upcycling while building social connections. The project originally operated from a 40-foot container at Two Fields Farm on Low Road, but is currently undergoing an impressive expansion at the same site. 

Debenham Shed tools

Debenham Shed is a non-profit community workshop and skills exchange where members can engage in handiwork and upcycling while building social connections - Credit: Archant

“The shed was becoming very popular and we began to think we would need more space,” says fundraiser and quartermaster Douglas Tatem. “When the pandemic struck, we suddenly realised that there was insufficient space for social distancing. So, it was decided that we would get three more containers which we would remove the walls from and join together.” 

Debenham Shed fundraiser and quartermaster Douglas Tatem

Debenham Shed fundraiser and quartermaster Douglas Tatem - Credit: Archant

Debenham Shed raised £35,000 towards the expansion, helped along by the generosity of local businesses. “We were very fortunate to be gifted three containers by Pentalver, as well as being granted funds from many organisations in Suffolk, which enabled us to commence building.”  

Ground preparations for the extension began in November 2020.  

“Once we got planning permission, a local agricultural firm supplied heavy machinery to prepare the ground for the foundations and put down tonnes of granite and asphalt chippings,” Douglas explains. “Local company Portable Space successfully delivered the three containers with amazing skill on a bitterly cold day in February when there was snow on the ground. Then we started working on the inside by removing internal walls, installing insulation and boarding them all out, then installed electricity and work benches.

"This work was led and undertaken by our chairman Bernard Rose, assisted by our vice-chairman Les Wright, both of whom gave up an enormous amount of time to achieve virtual completion within six months and both deserve considerable credit for this achievement."

Due to supply problems, the new and improved Debenham Shed is not yet fully operational. However, the team is looking forward to welcoming members soon. Once the expanded site is up and running, Covid-19 protocols will continue to be observed including sanitisers, social distancing and a visitor index. 

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On July 20, Douglas and the Debenham Shed team organised an open day to bring the community together.

"As our secretary Tony Hutt was on a well-deserved holiday, I led the administration and organisation of the open day to ensure that grateful thanks and appreciation was given to all the generous benefactors who have contributed to our cause.

Fundraiser Douglas Tatem, chairman Bernard Rose and vice-chairman Les Wright

Left to right, fundraiser Douglas Tatem, chairman Bernard Rose and vice-chairman Les Wright cut the cake at Debenham Shed's open day on July 20, 2021 - Credit: Archant

“We had a glorious day,” says Douglas. “Unfortunately, some people weren't able to attend due to self-isolation and unforeseen business commitments. Despite that we had a very good attendance.” 

Debenham Shed benefitted from a donation from the East of England Co-op's Community Cares Fund towards the extension and provided refreshments at the open day.  

“The East of England Co-op has been amazing in contributing to funding and agreeing to supply the refreshments,” Douglas says. “We want to say ‘thank you’ to all the individuals and organisations that have helped us: the East of England Co-op, Suffolk Community Foundation, Leading Lives, Suffolk County Council, Mid Suffolk District Council, Debenham Parish Council, the list goes on and on.” 

Debenham Shed is affiliated with the UK Men’s Shed Association and also sends donations to Tools with a Mission in Ipswich – a Christian charity that collects and refurbishes unwanted items such as computer equipment and hand tools and sends them to the developing world for livelihood creation. Debenham Shed member Vince Langdon-Morris recently developed a water pump that is currently being trialled in Malawi for use in the farming community. 

Fundraising efforts are now focused on obtaining and installing waterless composting toilets, ensuring that the site is as eco-friendly as possible. “Once we get the composting toilets set up, we will be really self-contained.” 

Debenham Shed was recently featured on Mark Murphy’s programme on BBC Radio Suffolk.  

“We actually had two people who heard the broadcast and got in touch,” Douglas says. “I think there's going to be a lot of people from the outlying villages who want to come and join us – and they are all very welcome! 

“We have all been quite traumatised by the isolation, the separation and bereavement of the pandemic,” Douglas adds. “Our members just want to go somewhere where they get together with people, have a cup of tea and a piece of cake and make or mend things. This is what Debenham Shed is all about – helping people to have the opportunity for better companionship.” 

For more information, please get in touch at debenhamshed@gmail.com  

Watch more episodes from the #EastTogether series at www.eastofengland.coop/easttogether 

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