Our Shed started in completely the ‘wrong’ way really. It came out of a local concern about suicide, and a conversation with a local councillor about an idea I had as a possible remedy.
In the Beginning…
This started what seemed to be a serendipitous, or it seemed at the time, inevitable journey to founding a Shed, in which the offer of finding a site and clear out of a double garage all happened within a fortnight of receiving an NHS grant to start our Shed.
I had help from a structural engineer, taking time off between jobs, who helped me pick up our first donated wood. Then the first three people to walk through the Shed doors were a woodturner and two engineers – one civil, the other less so! Joking aside, one was a civil engineer and the other a mechanical engineer.
They were both, and still are, great advocates for Sheds. We were later joined by a design engineer and these have been my absolute rocks and foundation stones.
Iron Sharpenening iron!
I am a teacher and for a good many years I have specialised in what teachers call working with students who are ‘hard to reach’.
I knew a Shed would be good for them and would probably be the only way they might get the one to one intergenerational learning they really needed. What I hadn’t realised was how good it might be for older Shedders, who wanted to pass on skills they had acquired through a lifetime of experience. So it was that we created our ‘safe space’ as a centre of learning.
I have always been creative at adapting qualifications so I can teach things that my learners want to learn. I adapted an engineering qualification, for example, that let one of our learners build his own computer, and currently we have a young lad turning pens for an enterprise qualification.
Training with jobs and diversity in mind
With there being increasing numbers of young people currently out of education, this side of the Shed membership continues to grow. I think there is also a lot of ‘downtime’ at the moment, in my experience. There is under-employment locally and this is balancing the other side of membership somewhat, so we are getting men of working age also coming to the Shed to help the neurodiverse members.
“With there being increasing numbers of young people currently out of education, this side of the Shed membership continues to grow”
We have a 21-year-old fully trained to level 3 in carpentry who is neurodiverse, he is a great asset and can empathise with the younger learners in a way I can’t. I’m not neurotypical myself, you may have guessed that already, so it’s quite natural for the neurodiverse community to have followed me to the Shed.
Partnerships within the community
We have a link with Children Looked After (CLA), as we offer Nationally Recognised Qualifications through the Open College Network (OCN). We teach mainly children and young people who reside in children’s homes. This has meant we couldn’t close down during the pandemic, even if we had wanted to.
If you can imagine living with up to twelve strangers 24-hours a day during a global pandemic, I think you can see the need for a safe space. We are also linked locally to Social Prescribing. There is no money in this as it isn’t grant-funded, and you definitely can’t use it as a funding stream, but we do try to help as the NHS provided us with initial funding to start our Shed.
“We teach mainly children and young people who reside in children’s homes. This has meant we couldn’t close down during the pandemic, even if we had wanted to.”
We have plans to run a non-gendered day, but this does alter behaviours in the Shed. It isn’t an easy thing to say, but what I have found is that many of our neurodiverse lads ‘copy’ those behaviours they like in others in a mix and match way. It may sound odd to people who don’t know how neurodiversity works, but some of our more complex learners are better on male-only days, they can at times act inappropriately. The idea was to open three times as often as a Men’s Shed than as an ungendered Shed to reflect the national suicide figures.
We were lucky enough to have a visit from Will Kirk (of Repair Shop fame) for breakfast television. This came about for a variety of reasons. We were building a sleigh for our local Rotary Club which was a major draw, but the original piece was going to be a lot more serious as both Will and I have suffered serious loss through suicide in our lives. Mine is still raw though, so I couldn’t talk about it without my voice going all over the place, which is why it was cut from the final piece.
“both Will and I have suffered serious loss through suicide in our lives”
Those who follow our Shed’s progress through our Facebook posts on The Men’s Shed Homepage will know we are now heavily involved in The Hatfield Bike Project, which we were going to run from our woodshed www.woodshed.webs.com however, it grew like topsy when the local police force donated no less than 32 broken bicycles.
We have had to go very big, very quickly. I am not a bike mechanic myself, I fixed bikes with my brothers as a teenager, but that was a few years ago now! So I have had to get help with this. Again serendipity came to our rescue, and we have the help of someone who trained a local cycling Olympiad.
We have had to go very big, very quickly
There is a lot of undercover talent in Hatfield! I am a trained Forest School teacher and quite a few Men’s Shed skills are transferable to Forest School, www.OurForestSchool.webs.com. The latest news is that we have a piece of woodland to look after which should be both enjoyable and give us some greenwood to turn along with providing an outlet for our environmental projects.
We will continue making bird boxes, bat boxes, hedgehog hibernation stations and garden planters (with single flowers for bees) and our insect hotels.
CLICK IMAGES BELOW TO ENLARGE PHOTOS
You might know the phrase ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants‘. Well yes, I think we do that from our original Men’s Shed founder, but I am also proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with other Shedders both in our Shed and as a movement. I just want to say to our community, never underestimate the power of your Shed to transform lives, continue to live the change you want to see.
In Shedship, Peter Lowe