Stepping inside the Men’s Shed
Long Sutton Men’s Shed is flourishing as a place where friendships are made and skills shared, as Kate Chapman finds out.
It started as somewhere for men who were feeling isolated and lonely to meet up with like-minded people, but Long Sutton Men’s Shed has grown to become so much more and is now a place where both friendships and creations are forged.
The project, based in a former glasshouse at Silverwood Garden Centre, has been up and running for six years and now boasts more than 100 members, who range in age from 20 years old up to 96, including many retirees.
“Shedders”, as they affectionately call themselves, hail from all walks of life and include men who want to meet new people, learn new skills or just put the world to rights over a cuppa.
Many live locally while others come from neighbouring towns, including Spalding, Sleaford and King’s Lynn. They’re a highly skilled bunch and having secured a variety of grants, their shed has been kitted out with machinery and equipment allowing them to enjoy activities including woodworking, metalworking, model-making and mechanical engineering.
Men’s Shed president Jack Tyrrell, who was instrumental in establishing the project, says it has proved a lifeline to many of those who attend, giving them a sense of belonging, friendship and a place to learn and share their talents, as well as supporting each other through life’s up and downs.
“Some of our members have worked all their life and then when they retire, they’ve lost touch with everyone, while others have suffered bereavement and found themselves on their own,” says Jack.
“It can be hard, but they can come here, meet people with common interests and make new friends. We don’t turn anyone away. They can share their skills, learn new ones and work on joint projects, or take on their own. There’s always lots going on, or they can just sit and chat.
“It’s really taken off, we’re one of the largest sheds in the area, and one of the biggest membership-wise in the country. At the moment we’re open three days a week, but if we can get even more men involved – we’ve said we’ll cap membership at 200 – then there’s the possibility that we will be able to increase that too.”
Long Sutton Men’s Shed officially opened its doors in 2017, after the idea was suggested by Barry Meade, now group secretary, who was impressed by a similar project he saw in Kent, where the taboo subject of men’s mental health was being tackled.
He approached Jack, a Lincolnshire county councillor who owns Silverwood Garden Centre in St James Road, about the possibility of starting something similar in Long Sutton. Jack initially said no, but began to rethink the idea after chatting to a couple of residents who had both recently lost their wives and were feeling isolated.
“I didn’t really understand the concept when Barry first suggested the shed, men’s mental health wasn’t really talked about much at the time.
“But after seeing these two men, how broken they were having lost their best friends, their soul mates, I just thought we needed something like the shed here. A place where men could come together, and that’s when I knew we had to give it a go,” Jack recalls.
“At first it was just a place for blokes living on their own to meet up. Lots of people move up to this area from London, they don’t have family here, and in these situations can sadly find themselves alone. While other men who have retired are often left feeling redundant, or useless – but they can come here and share their skills, make friends and look out for each other.
“We have a welfare officer and if someone hasn’t been for a few weeks, or is unwell or can’t get here, we check in on them and make sure they’re OK – there’s a great sense of community.”
Jack donated a large glasshouse and land for the group to use, and a meeting to gauge interest was held. Twelve people turned up and the shed has gone from strength to strength ever since.
As well as making friendships, the shedders have repaired village signs, made new ones highlighting local wildlife and built a shepherd’s hut. Their current project is a float for the Spalding Flower Parade.
The group also welcomes speakers on topics including scams, internet safety and men’s health. Despite requests, women are not allowed to become shedders. Members say they have their own female-only groups and feel it would change the dynamic too much, and even prevent some men from speaking openly about certain issues.
In addition to the Men’s Shed, an exciting new project for the area’s youngsters has also launched on the same site. The Youth Shed has been devised to provide 11-to-15 year olds with hands-on practical skills in a variety of trades.
So far 25 boys and girls have signed up to try activities including bricklaying, carpentry, plastering and mechanics with the hope of extending this offer if more experienced tradespeople come forward to lead the free sessions.
“There isn’t anything else like this out there – we’re not Boston College, but the idea is to give youngsters who aren’t quite old enough to get a job the chance to try their hand at some practical trades, which are in demand,” explains Jack.
“We’re hoping this will get them away from their phones and iPads and encourage them to learn new things – it will also give them a taster of trades before they sign up to study them at college and there will be certificates for those who complete certain elements.
“It’s great as it’s getting the youngsters and some of the older members of the community together, there’s a real sense of camaraderie – it’s great hearing the stories that are being shared.”
The team behind the Youth Shed are currently working to secure more funding to allow them to provide more facilities and equipment for the fledgling project, which officially began in April.
To find out more about Long Sutton Men’s Shed or to offer your services to help in the Youth Shed contact Jack Tyrrell on 07951 552087 or email CllrJ.Tyrrell@lincolnshire.gov.uk