The rise of the men’s shed movement
- Credit: Nick Butcher
We’ve long been a nation of shed lovers but even that can’t account for the extraordinary rise of the men’s shed movement.
In 2013 there were just 30 of these community spaces for men (and sometimes women) to connect, converse and create in the UK. Five years later there are more than 400, including many in this region, helping their members meet new friends and overcome the isolation that can accompany retirement, redundancy, illness and other big life events.
One of those is the Halesworth Men’s Shed, housed in a very unshed-like former print works beside a sports bar on the town’s Norwich Road. It’s been here around three years and when the founding ‘shedders’ took it over it was just an empty shell, or, as one of them, Alan Richardson describes it, a rubbish tip.
Not anymore. Inside this spacious and well-equipped ‘shed’ a warm welcome awaits, along with a cuppa and the ready offer of a biscuit. There’s a kitchen and large table, where members can sit and chat, next door to a well-stocked workshop, full of wood and metal-working machines and tools.
Some members have ‘making’ skills, others have none - or different talents. They’re all welcome into this inclusive space, to learn as they go and make as much or as little as they want. Some members work on their own projects but they also make things to sell locally and help fund the shed and, for a small fee, carry out repairs on items members of the public bring in.
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On the day I visit, just a handful of the shed’s 55 or so members are present. Some are just chatting but others are working, building planters, stools and refurbishing garden furniture.
The idea of the sheds is that while women will often talk ‘eyeball to eyeball’, many men find it easier to connect ‘shoulder to shoulder’, when they’re working on a project or sharing a task.
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The UK Men’s Shed Association says sheds are about meeting like-minded people, having fun, sharing skills, knowledge and worries with as well as gaining a renewed sense of purpose and belonging. They can reduce isolation and feelings of loneliness, help men to deal with mental health challenges, rebuild communities and in many cases, even save lives.
“It’s definitely therapy,” says Bob Clark, who’s working on making a stool and is keen to show off a beautiful kitchen cupboard-cum-worktop he’s already made. “I’ve always liked doodling and was looking for something to do with my spare time. This is it.”
Alan says the Halesworth shed’s stories of success and transformation are many. It’s helped people with mental illness, those who have been bereaved and others who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer.
But it’s not all tea and sympathy. There’s also a healthy dose of ribbing and gentle banter as part of the camaraderie. Most members are men but women are welcome too (there are currently around five female shedders). Anyone aged over 18 or over can join, although most are aged 60-plus.
“We’re always open to more members but for many the hardest thing is taking that first step and coming down,” says Alan. “Once they do they often don’t look back. Rather than sitting at home, on your own and doing nothing, come and be with us.”
According the to UK Men’s Sheds Association between six and nine new sheds are opening each month.
Sheds are whatever the members want them to be and, like the one at Halesworth, they are often housed in buildings other than sheds. Many groups don’t even have premises at all in the beginning and instead meet regularly for the social connection until they can find a base to kit out with tools.
The Halesworth Men’s Shed is open Tuesdays, Wednesday, Thursdays and Saturday mornings. Anyone interested in finding out more can just drop in or visit the website at www.halesworthshed.org.uk. There are also men’s sheds either open or planned at Wisbech, King’s Lynn, Downham Market, Fakenham, Cromer, Dereham, Thetford, Brandon, Great Yarmouth, Norwich, Beccles, Bungay, Diss, Lowestoft, Stowmarket, Debenham, Bacton (Suffolk), Leiston, Ipswich, Felixstow, Clacton, Braintree, Halstead. To find one near you visit www.menssheds.org.uk/find-a-shed.