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Meet an Ambassador: Gerry Johnson

Hello, my name is Gerry Johnson and I have just become a volunteer Shed Ambassador.  I am a trustee and one of the founders of the Hayling Island Men’s Shed which started in late 2015 and I became its first elected chairman in February 2016. 

Like a lot of Sheds starting up, finding premises is a time-consuming process and in 2019 we were finally able to buy and erect our Shed on a piece of unused land on the grounds of our local United Reformed Church. 

Unfortunately, eight months later, the new chairman decided he no longer wanted the job and left!

At our AGM in February 2020 I decided that now the hard work establishing our Shed had been done, it was time to stand down as chairman and let someone else take over the reins. Unfortunately, eight months later, the new chairman decided he no longer wanted the job and left. All this was, of course, during the lockdown and, not able to meet to resolve the issue, guess what – I’m back as acting chairman for the time being.

I wanted to be a farmer, then a coach driver, then a carpenter.

When you ask Shedders why they get involved in a Men’s Shed, you will get many varied answers and explanations. For me, I was a bit of a frustrated would-be (or should that be wood-be) carpenter.  When we are little boys we often think of what we would like to be when we are grown up. 

I know what you’re thinking, most of us are still little boys and have never grown up, and you’re probably right.  Anyway, I remember I wanted to be a farmer, then a coach driver, then a carpenter. Being a carpenter started when I was on my summer holidays.

I used to pass a carpenter’s workshop each day on the way to the beach. I would stop to watch the men at work. The smell of wood, seeing the carpenters using saws, chisels, planes, no power tools in those days, was fascinating to me. I’d spend more time there than on the beach. That did it, my mind was made up, I was going to be a carpenter.

Needless to say, I didn’t become a carpenter although I did do woodwork at school. I didn’t become a coach driver, or a farmer either. Instead, on leaving school I went to a top London hotel and trained as a chef. Ten years later I joined the Metropolitan Police and completed 30 years’ service before retiring. Quite a change and neither of those jobs had entered my head as a small boy.

I never lost that desire to make things out of wood and wanted to put the very rudimental skills learnt at school to use. I equipped my garage with a workbench and the usual range of tools to make simple things.

Imagine my delight when I heard about Men’s Sheds and all they set out to achieve and the opportunity to start one here, where I live. I’d have the use of a bigger workshop to work in, bigger and better tools to work with than I have at home, and the chance to learn new skills from like-minded and more skilled men than me.  Whooopeeedooo!

a bigger workshop to work in, bigger and better tools to work with than I have at home, and the chance to learn new skills from like-minded and more skilled men than me.  Whooopeeedooo!

Following a personal bereavement, I found myself with more time on my hands and with our Hampshire Ambassador, Graham Gowman getting more and more enquiries from West Sussex, I volunteered to become an Ambassador for that area. I firmly believe in the concept of what Men’s Sheds set out to achieve, namely health and mental wellbeing for men. 

I firmly believe in the concept of what Men’s Sheds set out to achieve, namely health and mental wellbeing for men. 

To offer a centre for men to enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded individuals and to combat loneliness and isolation. I would like to use my experience of starting and running a Shed to good use by offering any advice and support where I can, whether it is where an interest has been shown in starting a new Shed or supporting existing Sheds. 

To offer a centre for men to enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded individuals and to combat loneliness and isolation.  

I have a total of 20 Sheds to support. Two are in development on the Hampshire/West Sussex boarder, at Liss and Petersfield, and 18 are in West Sussex. One of those is Chichester which is in development and a further two are enquiries on starting a Shed.  

One of my aims was to see if there’s interest in starting a West Sussex Shed Network on the lines of the Southern Men’s Shed Network. I am very lucky to have the support of Neil Cotton from the West Sussex County Council who has set the date of 23rd September and a venue for a meeting for all the West Sussex Sheds.  We are now working on the agenda. So exciting, and I’m really looking forward to it.

So far I have visited the Liss Shed which is under construction. I stood with the Petersfield members on a Saturday morning in their market handing out leaflets promoting Men’s Sheds and have been part of their public Zoom meeting.

I get invited and take part in both Petersfield and Chichester’s Zoom committee meetings and, with restrictions lifted, I will be able to attend face-to-face meetings with the Chichester Shed as from this month.

I now plan to visit some of the West Sussex Sheds before the September meeting and pick up on the two new enquiries.

It’s very early days in my new role but I have really enjoyed the involvement I have had so far in meeting other Shedders, discussing their development, their plans, the trials and tribulations.  Roll on the next few months.  Wish me luck.

Anyone reading this ‘Meet the Ambassador’ and would like to contact me, please email gerry.johnson@ukmsa.org.uk

Gerry