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Meet an Ambassador: Martin Young

Martin Young. Trustee & Chairman – Dunstable Men in Sheds.  Shed Ambassador: NHC Region.

Hi, I have been asked to write a ‘few’ words about myself, and how finding Men in Sheds has been a wonderful, rewarding and, at times, stressful journey over the past four years.

I was born in Dover in 1951.  My dad was a car mechanic, and I spent much of my formative years helping him repair friends’ cars, mostly in drafty, damp and ill-lit sheds and garages. Happy days, and fond memories though.

As I was leaving school, my dad was promoted to be one of the chief engineers on the new Dover Harbour Board tugs ‘Diligent’ and ‘Dominant’.  This was achieved on his skills and merit, despite the crippling injury he suffered as an infant.

Throughout most of my career, I’ve been ‘held back’ from promotion because, as I was told, I did not have ‘formal’ qualifications.

Dad encouraged me to take an apprenticeship and I gained a one-year pre-apprenticeship course, which lead to an apprenticeship as a fitter/turner at Ashford Railway Works.

Passing my City & Guilds Full Tech exams with credit, resulted in a 48-year career in the railway engineering industry.  Jobs taken: Workstudy Engineer: Senior Draughtsman: Junior Rollingstock Engineer and Testing & Commissioning Engineer – the latter two on the Channel Tunnel project.  I’ve worked on Metro contracts abroad, recently the Crossrail and High Speed 2 projects, including consulting on Systems Engineering for the National Skills Academy – Rail. I retired in 2016 as a Senior Engineering Manager, with a national rail infrastructure maintenance company. Click the images below to enlarge and scroll.



Throughout most of my career, I’ve been ‘held back’ from promotion because, as I was told, I did not have ‘formal’ qualifications.  Glass ceilings existed!

There are many back stories to this fact, that both affected my health, confidence and family life. The worst knock came when I was out of work for a year after the Channel Tunnel project finished. Taking a leaf from my father’s book, tenacity pulled me through.

During 1995, I gained a bursary as a mature student, on a new and unique Master’s Degree course in Rail Systems Engineering, run by the University of Sheffield.  It ticked all the boxes for me, and I was eager to start the first module in the September.  But then, with mouths to feed, I took a job on the London Underground Jubilee Line Extension (JLE) project, closely followed by metro contracts in Greece and Turkey.  Returning to the UK in 1997 to work on the JLE Project again, gave me the opportunity to start the university course.  The course director had ‘left the door open’ for me and I was primed and ready to smash through the glass ceilings.

My keen interest in music lead to me becoming the front man of many local heavy rock, and pop groups in East Kent.  In one band we auditioned for ‘Opportunity Knocks’. We turned Hughie down!

Yes, the four years of part-time study were hard, but what I learnt reinforced my confidence, experience and belief that I was as equally as good as those that had previously been promoted above me.

I gained my Master’s Degree, including gaining Chartered Engineer status. I hold both as sacred and gold!

My keen interest in music lead to me becoming the frontman of many local heavy rock, and pop groups in East Kent.  In one band we auditioned for ‘Opportunity Knocks’. We turned Hughie down!

Being the lead singer, and able to play the alto sax meant that we could play a different range of songs that other blues-based bands could not.  Summer seasons entertaining at holiday camps, residencies, gigs and supporting top-name acts were common.  Family and work commitments effectively lead to putting music on to the back-burner.  Happily, it still flares up when opportunities knock.

And so to, Men in Sheds.

Just prior to retiring, I saw a small poster issued by Dunstable Town Council asking if anyone was interested in setting up a Men’s Shed in Dunstable.  My first contact with a Town Council employee Jack Adams-Rimmer has led us to where we are today, with a much enlarged Shed. A long-awaited complete refurbishment of the premises and reorganisation of the workshop and amenity areas has been stopped in midstream by the current virus.

Finding suitable premises was the first priority.  What size? What rent? What rates? How many members? What facilities? were all on the agenda.

The concept of Men’s Sheds interested me as an extension to volunteering on steam railways and in museums.  I needed more information before committing and Jack gave me the name of Peter Gallagher of the Milton Keynes Shed.  Peter had arranged a presentation on Men in Sheds that Jack had attended.  A long and very enjoyable conversation with Peter answered all my questions. Returning to Dunstable, Jack and I set up the first meeting with other men who had shown interest and the first Committee was formed in November 2016.

Finding suitable premises was the first priority.  What size? What rent? What rates? How many members? What facilities? were all on the agenda.

The cost of renting small commercial industrial units of 1000 square feet was out of the question.  With no income from subscriptions or other sources it seemed an impossible task. Focus turned elsewhere, and the Town Council agreed to offer us a little used store on an allotment.

On a first visit it seemed ideal – 40ft x 18ft, a ceiling height of 8ft, water and electricity, but no lavatory.  We had no alternative, so agreed to take it on.  Then the Town Council told us that they were only prepared to give us half of the building and, again, we had no choice. But we were to pay no charges for use of the property.

Early days were reasonably cheerful and safe. Then wood-working machinery was installed and working conditions became cramped and, at times, unsafe.  The lack of a lavatory was also a very serious concern – as you can well imagine!  We eventually got permission to build our own wooden ‘thunderbox’.  Less said about that, the better.

Taking guidance from conversations at the ShedFest annual gatherings, we became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation in April 2018, Trustees were appointed, and a new shed constitution, and health & safety policy statement was posted on the noticeboard.

In July 2019, the Town Council finally agreed to let us have the remaining half of the premises; expanding into the new space alleviated many of the safety issues related to operating the machine tools. Early last year we finally embarked on our long planned Shed Refurbishment Project.

The journey has been rewarding, and at times stressful, but I do not regret a single minute of the time and energy that I have put in to getting the Shed to its current phase.

My role as a UKMSA Ambassador has also proved rewarding.  I have done many presentations on the UKMSA and our Shed, highlighting the social and community benefits that we all bring to the communities in which we operate.  In fact, there are a number of towns in the region that have shown interest in developing Sheds, to which I have offered my services.

For me the rewards are seeing the smiling faces of new members during their visits, followed by seeing the complete 180-degree turn in men who have found their confidence and worth again from talking and interacting with like-minded individuals.

We have fostered a well-founded relationship with both the Town and County Councillors which is paying dividends far and above what any of us expected.  In fact, we have a Town Councillor as a Trustee.

I am very pleased to be able to play my part in promoting UKMSA and the important part our Association and Sheds contribute to society.