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 twenty years since I changed my career to join the voluntary sector. I began recruiting volunteers for local community groups, in those days I worked from a small town centre shop. Twenty years later, my work is now in national charity strategic and operational management. Community development and volunteer enablement remain at the heart of my work. 

A chance encounter

Five years ago, a work colleague from the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) met Mike Jenn, the founder of UK Men’s Sheds Association. It led to me taking on a new role with RVS and shortly thereafter, the RVS and UK Men’s Sheds Association launched a partnership to support the development of Men’s Sheds across the UK – and we’ve together worked ever since.

Jo with Mike Jenn, founder of UK Men’s Sheds Association

The journey ahead

I was inspired by Mike’s enthusiasm from the first time he showed me around Camden Town Shed- that every man (or woman) that wants access to such a creative community should have the opportunity to do so. I’ve supported many new Sheds to get up and running and I now call myself a Shedder! I’ve developed my own up-cycling and carving skills as a founder and member of GatewaySHED in Leek, Staffordshire, which we opened in 2016. 

I’ve been a co-opted trustee of the UK Men’s Sheds Association as it has emerged as an organisation. It’s heartening to see its vision and 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 Royal Voluntary Society

The week before the March lockdown, I began working as part of the RVS team setting up and delivering the NHS Volunteer Responders Programme – providing volunteer support to 2.4 million people shielding during the pandemic. It was incredibly humbling to watch 750,000 people step forward to volunteer within 72 hours! We are continuing to support the most vulnerable people. Whilst Sheds, community centres and social groups have had to close their doors to protect their members, it’s people like all of you that have been at the heart of the local and national response to the pandemic.

Whether formally or informally, 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 smaller shops and resources from our local communities.

As Sheds take the tentative steps to re-open doors, albeit, with changes in numbers, layouts and PPE requirements for personal safety, I’m cautiously optimistic that we can continue to build the national Shed movement. We have challenges ahead – but we can all strive to be part of an even more community-minded ‘post-pandemic movement’ in our towns and cities. The lockdown has affected us all differently and our next steps to improve our communities and 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.

– Jo Phillips