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Meet Pat Cooke : UK Men’s Shed Association Ambassador

Hi everyone,  my name is Pat Cooke, I was brought up in the East End of London but since I married have lived in various counties.  Prior to retiring from work I had been a Local Government Officer with specific responsibility for Royal Visits within our County.

In 2010 my husband and I moved to Somerset and as he had not been too well he had sold off all his beloved tools, fortunately the clean air down here meant his health improved but of course then boredom set in and he set about purchasing all the things that he had recently sold!  So for many years I have been around woodworking and design.”

“for many years I have been around woodworking and design.

My husband was a founder member of Crewkerne & District Men’s Shed, it gave him friendship and banter and also gave him the opportunity of using his existing skills and learning new ones.  Of course it also meant that I knew all about the Shed as I had to listen to his tales when he came home and often brought ‘homework’ with him.

In 2019 when our Shed was moving into new premises I offered to help with secretarial duties which was gratefully accepted, at this time I was the only female member – daunting. Unfortunately just after this my husband passed away and my life was temporarily put on hold. However, I soon came to realise that I needed normality and something to occupy myself. I knew that the accepted female hobbies were not going to cut it for me, so I went back to the Shed where I had a relatively normal life; there was laughter, involvement, and the chance to make a difference to our community.

“there was laughter, involvement, and the chance to make a difference to our community.”

In 2020 our ex-Chairman decided to stand down due to ill health, eventually we called a Committee meeting where nominations (or should I say nomination) were given for a new Chairman, hmm 1 nomination and a resounding across the board vote for me.

We have both males and females working side by side in our Shed and it creates a lovely atmosphere.  We have also developed a Community Fix It programme where people can bring something in to have a makeover or be mended. On one occasion a lady came in asking for a ramp to be made for her mobility scooter so it didn’t get wet during the winter.  All this work is done on a contribution only basis so that no member of the community is excluded, we have become well known locally for this service and it serves us well. Just before the first lockdown I was contacted by the local Jobcentre where they have a scheme to get their clients to do some voluntary work in order to keep their CV up to date and also keep their skill set.  When we’re-open we will be welcoming a carpenter who has relocated, together with a young lady who is looking for work in design and she is going to look after our window display.  There are so many opportunities for everyone within our Sheds and the Shed is a great initiative for tackling both male and female mental health both through working together, and providing a safe space for men to work with and support each other.

“We have both males and females working side by side in our Shed and it creates a lovely atmosphere.

Last year I was approached with a view to becoming an Ambassador. Again, this is something that has been very enjoyable, talking to new people, giving advice or help and promoting the difference that Sheds can make within a community. I can understand some of the challenges that Sheds face as I have had to deal with difficult situations at times. This has included managing conflict between different members of the Shed and even an occasion where we had to assist local Police who had arrested a man (unrelated to the Shed) suspected of grooming young girls outside our Shed. I had to manage this carefully and communicate with the Police and the community to make sure people knew our Shed was in no way connected to this incident. 

Recently I have been part of the team trying to develop Sheds in Cornwall, this has been so interesting, using social media to contact different local areas and garner interest –  we even managed to get interest from RNAS Culdrose. Despite lockdown we have been making great progress so far. We now have an active Cornwall Sheds Facebook page and some really positive discussions happening.

It has been difficult to get out and meet other Sheds but hopefully we can all see light at the end of the tunnel and I look forward to being able to do so.  It will also be good to be able to get out and about locally and talk to other local groups and the community about the work we do.