As an abbreviated form of “Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder”, this mission statement, adopted by the Australian Men’s Shed Association in 2008, evokes somewhat the sentiment of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the early 20th century. By its nature, The Men’s Shed movement appeals to an older clientele, no longer shackled to an everyday job but possibly missing the camaraderie of the workplace. Whisper it loud, many are even now reputed to be open to women!
Wikipedia informs me that Australia alone boasts some 900 sheds, from its inception down under in the ‘80s, with others emerging daily around the globe. The UK has a comprehensive database from which to locate your local shed and I am proud to be a recent addition to Lewes Men’s Shed.
The Lewes Shed
Sarah Caulfield, heading up the Wellbeing and Mental Health team at Foundry Healthcare our local NHS hub, initiated the Lewes Shed in November 2022. As Sussex emerged from the COVID years it was evident that many citizens experienced increased isolation and subsequent depression. Early Shed meetings were held in a local community centre and the founding members sat around drinking tea and chatting, listening to talks and generally looking for an identity. Robin joined with a view to making new friendships as he was new to the area, but galvanised the group by achieving charitable status for the branch and became a key member of the steering committee, a true Shed Supervisor. Marcus’ contribution is greatly appreciated in these winter months by all as we thaw out our hands and warm our bodies with his delicious soups, bread rolls and benefit from his in-depth knowledge of our local area. John is usually to be found lying under a workbench wiring up more kit. And Ian keeps us all under control.
Sharing skills and equipment
Our current location in an empty 1960s office block has been lent to us by Human Nature, the developers of the Phoenix Project, but necessarily can only be a temporary home. The generous space is welcome, access is easy and raises our expectations as we seek a more permanent base and growing membership.
Most Men’s Sheds are well resourced as they have become the repository of tools and equipment, a legacy of their owners who have downsized, died or retired from professional careers. Lewes is no exception and we benefit from an eye-watering array of fine machinery. Recycled timber has contributed to a large number of home-made work benches. Corporately we have been tasked to build a cupboard for the local railway station as it embarks on a book-exchange scheme, meanwhile members are hammering away at birdboxes, commissions for local shops, restoring furniture for the community or undertaking private projects. With vastly superior tools at my disposal my current task is a matching pair of occasional tables. Fellow shedders look on, as I explore the possibilities presented by a morticing jig, spindle moulder or joiner, offering advice helpful or otherwise according to their varying degrees of experience or hunger to learn.
A remedy for isolation and depression
Congratulations to our beleaguered NHS for prompting wellbeing: far more effective than any gloop thrust upon us by well-heeled film stars, or pills dispensed willy-nilly to alleviate our stress by equally harassed medics, our Men’s Sheds provide a sensible hands-on approach to the challenges posed by mental health. Lewes boasts an impressive range of societies, clubs and U3A groups; along with companionable cycling through the East Sussex lanes or walking in a group through the South Downs, all of these offer a civilised means of people interacting.
Following the Christmas and New Year celebrations, I cannot wait to be reunited with my fellow shedders and my modest pile of timber, lovingly machined and ready for assembly. For those content to complete a jigsaw puzzle (or perhaps fabricate one), undertake some marquetry or just find a quiet corner to read, there will be gentle companionship, mutual support and laughs a plenty in OUR SHED!
Happy New Year!