Meet the Ambassador: Graham Gowman

Hello, I’m Graham Gowman – retired from a life in Mechanical Engineering Building Services and now a full-time grandad. I loved my job and in running a business you have to be a self-starter; not panic and be prepared for almost anything. Working through the years I had so many experiences and innovations to take on board, it was exhilarating and I was never too tired to get out of bed in the morning.

I am one of the most fortunate people who ever lived along with the rest of my generation in this nation of ours.

No war 

No hunger

NHS 

Constant work

Free education (mostly)

Pensions

Constantly increasing standard of living

There have been some hiccups. I can remember at junior school I had a slate and chalk; an iPad was something you wore if you’d had an accident. I’m not that old, but that’s the way it was. At secondary school I remember watching with my classmates as the clock ticked down on the Cuba crisis (1962); would we be under a mushroom cloud before 4pm? Fortunately not. It must have been pretty stressful because I can remember it so clearly. Then along came the Beatles and the Stones, everything’s gonna be all right. Long hair, drainpipe or flared trousers for blokes, short skirts for girls, jobs galore, youth and money in our pockets. What else could you want?

When I first left school I wanted to work in horticulture, but one of the conditions was that one year’s practical training was required and I actually worked for a few months on a mixed farm. Combine harvesters needed a person on the back in those days, really tough dusty work, then milking cows and shoveling cow poo!

At the time I could milk a cow by hand, but wouldn’t fancy trying now. I soon realised that if your family did not actually own a farm or several hundred acres then career progression would be limited, so back to the Job Centre and lets try engineering (as you did) – I never looked back.

Marriage, children and work before the serious stuff of life. Sheds!

Throughout my life I’ve been involved in many things other than work, without actually planning for it. Volunteering and charitable works have been a constant. Children’s Society, school governor, Scouting, Churchwarden of Romsey Abbey, mentoring students – I embraced them all and did what I could. All of these experiences blended to make me a dedicated Shedder in later life.

Back in August 2015 I saw an item on TV about Men’s Sheds and thought that sounded like something that I’d like. So I phoned up Mike Jenn [at Camden Town Shed] and asked if there was a Shed in my (Romsey) area? “No” he said, “but if you’d like to start one!” and it went on from there. I met Brian Cooke (Kookie) at a dementia event held just outside Romsey, we chatted for a couple of minutes, he gave me a pamphlet, and that was it.

I have subsequently founded two Sheds one at Romsey and a second at Nursling. They are completely different foundation concepts – Romsey Men’s Shed is in the grounds of a secondary school and Nursling Men’s Shed is in a Victorian hall beside St Boniface Church, our landlords. Both Sheds are registered CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisations) but with differing operational constraints. Romsey is in the town and Nursling is pretty rural and surrounded by graves (consecrated ground) but both get involved in the wider community, which I consider so important for Sheds.

It’s not unusual, but I have a brother – Henry – in Norfolk, and at times we have parallel lives. While I was getting involved with Sheds in Hampshire Henry was getting involved in setting up a Shed in Poringland. Together we are approx 7% of UKMSA Ambassadors! Something nice to share in our more mature years.

I’m also actively involved in setting up regional Shed Networks which were started by Steve Rudrup in Portsmouth and have proved to be hugely effective at spreading the Men’s Shed offering. It is so worthwhile you have to wonder why it took so long.

One of the greatest enjoyments I find in being an Ambassador and meeting other Shedders is the amazing eclectic breadth of the breed. Men from every quarter, some with amazing skills and some with none, but all wanting to pull together for something better. During the few short years of Shedding I’ve had men introduced to a Shed by their wives, sons, daughters and even grandchildren, all of them knowing that we were doing something worthwhile. I’ve seen tears and had heartfelt hugs of thanks for ‘giving him back his spark’. I’ve seen men literally have their life saved because they listened to a chat about prostate cancer and gone for a check, I’ve known guys make things, do things, and talk about things that would never have happened if it were not for the Shed. I am so privileged to have met so many interesting and capable people at this stage of my life.

Getting our movement into the public consciousness is an ongoing effort; there are so many very worthy causes out there. One of the first cheques I was given when starting Romsey Men’s Shed was for £500 – presented by the Round Table at an evening event with some ten other charities receiving a donation. We were the first presentation and I gave my thanks, spoke a little about Men’s Sheds, and sat down. There were some amazing recipients that followed me that evening, Guys that used their motor bikes to move blood donations between hospitals, the local food bank, and the last one literally brought me to tears. It was for Romsey Young Carers – children as young as five and six tending to their mum or dad before they went to school, or making a meal at the end of the day, as well as doing homework or looking after siblings. It should not be necessary to have a charity for this in our country. 

But then, should there be a need for our own UKMSA? Of course there should. At their best, Sheds are dynamic, generous, fulfilling places that benefit not only the members but also their wider family and the wider community. Most established Sheds I know actively support other charities; we are a force for good so, of course we should be here.

I am a great believer in setting Sheds up properly and that includes insurance, registered charity status,  agreements for premises and membership rules and having a H&S (health and safety) policy. Please folks, get yourself covered, get yourself organised. It doesn’t detract from the enjoyment but, without structure there can be no sustainability, just anarchy. From all of the charities I have been involved with there has always been a structure and rules, sometimes locally adjusted, but always there.

I love the diversity of chats on our Facebook site, steam engines, dish-washing, ironing, country walks, canals. And all of the usual Shed problems, jokes (both verbal and visual) and of course ‘jobs wot we ave done’ and ‘fings wot I ave learned’. Long may it continue.

I have been a Santa for years and this year has obviously been a washout, except one of my Shedders suggested we build a sleigh, put it on a trailer, and visit some local streets. I’m sure we’ll not be alone in this and other Sheds will be doing similar, I certainly hope so.

Somewhere in our inner psyche there is that wish to make things better, make things safer, more like the ‘good old days’ which, in fact, were terrible! 

I know that most of us come from a world of pen and paper, wood and steel. But science and technology is where we’re going – truly international, mostly beneficial if used well – and it does not make us a dying breed of dinosaurs. We have the benefit of knowing that we can do things for ourselves. As I said, we are the most fortunate of generations, we know the value of relationships and we are still learning.

Of course we have to take care of ‘our soul’. Caring for each other and our communities doesn’t require technology and bundles of money, just decency and humanity.

I’ve been doing Santa for many years, but this year? Is Santa a key worker? He must have lock-picking skills (come to that, are locksmiths key workers?)

Anyway it is so rewarding and such a fleeting time for youngsters, everybody smiles.

Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year

Stay Safe,  Be Kind & Keep Shedding



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