“There’s a new concept in Australia“, Tony told me, while I was visiting Tony and Corinne in a small town near Melbourne in 2010. He took me to a small Shed nearby and I was very impressed by the welcome I received.
The Shed was sited on grounds close to a council park and although small, it was compact and its members were full of enthusiasm. New Sheds were able to claim Government grants and every town had one! I left with the thought – what a great idea; wouldn’t it be great if a scheme like this could be introduced in the UK.
I had been working for ICI / PPG industries for 31 years and had a great opportunity to be given redundancy on 8th May 2009. I started there as an electrician, worked through production management and, for the last 12 years, as a health and safety officer. I was to work until September 2009, but on the 15th May I was rushed into hospital with chest pains. The next day I was told I had suffered a heart attack! I returned to work for a few days in September, just to clear my desk.
I still felt I had something to offer so I looked for employment. I wanted to enhance my health and safety qualification so I studied an NVQ level 4, obtaining a Grad IOSH status. I then occupied my time for the next few years as a H&S [health and safety] Consultant, before being offered the position as a Group H&S Manager in a local beauty / spa company. The company was bought in 2015 and I found myself redundant again! This time I decided it was time to retire.
I have never been a man who sits on his hands and my introduction to the Shed concept in Australia never left me. Tony and Corinne would often write to me with updates of the progress of their local sheds.
It was in 2015 I thought – Stowmarket needs a Shed! I wrote to the Mayor of Stowmarket and said; “Barry I have this thought that won’t go away.” Thankfully he liked the idea and arranged for me to conduct a presentation to the local town council, I had 10 minutes to make the case. Fortunately they unanimously supported the idea. Barry the Mayor became my partner. The Council offered us two buildings to convert into a workshop. One was the small toilet block on the town recreation ground, the other was a de-consecrated chapel in the middle of a graveyard! We joked about the age of the people using the Shed and not needing to travel far when our time was up! We decided not to use either building, but look further afield.
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Redundant Chapel used for storage. It had no running water and no toilet and wash facilities. Our neighbours wouldn’t have had a lot to say!
When I worked for ICI we had a Recreation Club which was second to none, it had every sport facility available, all it’s employees would be members. PPG Industries bought the refinish business but didn’t want to know anything regarding the Recreation Club. For the club to survive it had to stand on it’s own two feet and become a private company, called Stowmarket Meadlands Recreation Club. Unfortunately the football, tennis, cricket and putting pitches were swallowed up by a huge warehouse, but the indoor bowls green, snooker hall, paint shop and clubhouse remained.
I approached the Meadlands Recreation Club asking them if we could erect a shed somewhere on their grounds and they offered us a small piece behind the Indoor Bowls Green. We were to become a section of the Recreation Club, our rates and energy costs were to be absorbed, so our only outlay was insurance – happy days!
This land is managed by the Meadlands Recreation Club, but still owned by PPG Industries. We now had a piece of land but no materials to build with – the fun was now to start! When you believe in something it makes you very determined and contacting building suppliers ‘cap in hand’ became easy! We scrounged the concrete for the base (around £1k), 100 metres of large SWA cable installed and 40 sheets of Celotex for insulation. We were approached by a local large charity to build five picnic tables, and to repair fences and picnic tables for the Meadlands Club. Money started to arrive in our company bank account. We were able to buy some timber and make a start on the construction.
We were fortunate to receive a £10k Lottery Grant for woodworking machinery in our new workshop.
I was told stories about Sheds in Australia inviting health professionals to the Shed to speak to men who were in their comfort zone. Taking this idea, I organised a charity to talk to us about the prostate, and nurses to speak to us about dementia and diabetes. I also felt we weren’t always encouraging men ‘to put the world to rights’, so I created a morning for just talking, drinking tea, and eating biscuits. We often used this time to give members a chance to present a subject of their interest.
We were approached by Age UK, St Elizabeth Hospice and various other charities to work with them. We made many mud kitchens, raised beds for schools, and wooden cycles to mark the women’s cycle race through Stowmarket. PPG Industries support local schools by supplying employees to carry out improvement projects and we were asked to make equipment from wood for their playground.
Due to the success of Stowmarket Shed, we soon outgrew it and needed to expand. We approached our Landlords to ask them for permission to build another Shed, so we applied for another Lottery Grant to enable us to purchase timber to build our second Shed.
Our second shed in construction.
In 2018 I went back to visit Tony and Corinne near Melbourne again and they showed me a Shed which had developed into a Shed to be envied. It started off as a small Shed but had grown beyond recognition. It now has a commercial size kitchen with their own chef, a cinema, forge, model railway section, a vehicle restoration bay, a woodworking area and a games room. On certain days the members’ families are invited for a film and a cooked meal. I often think of this Shed who lived their dream! I believe we should also have that dream and grow accordingly.
I am an Ambassador for a fairy large area of West Suffolk but only have four active Sheds. There are more which failed to get off the starting blocks – which is a huge shame.
I was asked to be an Ambassador about two years ago by my fellow Suffolk Ambassador – Doug Mizon (I expect at some point I will forgive him!!) I am enjoying the role which involves considering other people and their Sheds, regular meetings with other Ambassadors, and the occasional challenging email from Rachel! I am currently involved with all the other Ambassadors in East Anglia, planning a Network for the three counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
Recently Doug and I visited a successful Shed and allotments managed by ActivLives. They have several plots and teach various groups of people and those with special needs, the art of growing produce to sell to the public. They have a Shed on site which supports the organisation with repairing sheds and building raised beds.
I think there is so much more that can be done to make people aware of the benefits of a Shed and when we do – the dream will become a reality.
West Suffolk Ambassador