Meet Jo Phillips, Men’s Sheds Trustee and West Midlands Ambassador

2020 has certainly been challenging for Men’s Sheds and the wider voluntary sector. This year marks 20 years since I decided to join the voluntary sector. I began locally recruiting volunteers for community groups, in those days I worked from a small town-centre shop. 20 years later, the work has grown into charity strategic and operational management. Community development and volunteer enablement remain at the heart of my work. 

A chance encounter

Five years ago, while I was working at the Royal Voluntary Service, (RVS) I met Mike Jenn; the founder of UK Men’s Sheds Association. He and a work colleague inspired me to take on a new role working with UKMSA.

Jo and Mike Jenn; founder of UK Men’s Sheds Association

Shortly thereafter, the RVS and UK Men’s Sheds Association launched a partnership to support the development of Men’s Sheds across the UK. We’ve worked ever since. I now call myself a Shedder! My professional and personal life continues to revolve around Sheds.

The Journey ahead!

I was inspired by Mike’s enthusiasm from the first time he showed me around, Camden Town Shed! Every man (or woman) that wants access to such a creative community should have the opportunity to do so. I’ve helped lots of new Sheds get up and running. I’ve even learned to upcycle and carve as a founder and member of GatewaySHED in Leek, Staffordshire, which we opened in 2016. 

The UK Men’s Sheds Association is an emerging organisation. It’s heartening to see its benefits shared by so many. Since I joined it has:

  • become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO)
  • appointed a Chief Officer
  • employed a wider staff team
  • added new board members

Working with the Royal Voluntary Service

The week before March lockdown, I began working as part of the Royal Voluntary Service team. Setting up and delivering the NHS Volunteer Responders Programme. Providing volunteer support to 2.4 million people shielding during the pandemic.

It has been incredibly humbling to watch 750,000 people step forward to volunteer within 72 hours! We are continuing to support the most vulnerable people. Sheds, community centres and social groups have had to close their doors to protect their members. It’s been a tough time for lots of people. The voluntary sector has been at the heart of the local and national response to the pandemic.

Every man or woman that wants access to such a creative community should have the opportunity!

We’ve all chatted more on phone calls and Zoom calls than ever before. We’ve kept an eye on our members, connected more with our neighbours when they needed it. We’ve re-discovered that we can easily get by using the smaller shops, and resources from our local communities.

As Sheds take the tentative steps to re-open doors, I’m cautiously optimistic that we can continue to build the national Shed movement. We can all strive to be part of a new, more community-minded, ‘post-pandemic movement’ in our towns and cities. The lockdown has affected us all differently; our next steps to improve men’s health will look different too.

Challenge us and learn with us!

UK Men’s Sheds Association is already doing its best to adapt to your changing needs and keeping abreast of the new guidance. Please continue to work with us. Challenge us and learn with us. As we all look into how we can rise to new challenges, both national and local.