OPINION: The essence of volunteering is kept in a shed

For those involved new friendships have been formed, new skills developed, hobbies and pastimes have been pursued and numerous projects completed for community groups.
For those involved new friendships have been formed, new skills developed, hobbies and pastimes have been pursued and numerous projects completed for community groups.

It was almost exactly two years ago when I first heard of the concept of Men’s Sheds. Based on the premise of the stereotypical ‘shed at the bottom of the garden’, it was somewhere men could go to tinker, to make things, to feel a sense of achievement or just to have a cuppa, enjoy some company and a laugh.

And by doing so improve their own health, address issues like social isolation and play their part in community development – the very essence of why volunteering is so important.

The movement was sweeping across Australia, where there were over a thousand in existence and was now taking hold in Ireland, England and in parts of Scotland.

I immediately felt this could be something to meet the needs of many men in the Borders who come to us looking for volunteering opportunities. Men who are often elderly, bored, looking for something to do after retirement, fed up with spending all day watching the telly. Men who have skills and interests but often feel isolated and men whose confidence is sometimes low.

After discussing with colleagues in other organisations covering areas such as health care, community development and services for the elderly or unemployed we decided to give it a go.

But how do you start a Men’s Shed? All we had was an idea. We had no building, no resources no real plan and, crucially, no men!

To test the water we held a public meeting in Galashiels. We had no idea what interest it would generate. Other agencies and organisations were like us, enthused by the idea but would any men turn up? The four men who did turn up from Galashiels and Jedburgh liked what they heard and wanted to meet again. The shed movement was underway. Visits to another shed in East Lothian helped to further develop the enthusiasm. The genie was out of the bottle. The energy was unlocked.

Word of mouth soon got around. The number interested and curious to find out more increased. Those enthused began to knock on doors, enquiries were made , a wave of support developed and donations and help began to flow.

Two years later the Borders Shed movement is growing and flourishing. From the first sheds in Galashiels and Jedburgh interest has been generated in other towns with initiatives explored by those who have heard of the idea. The organisations have been around to help facilitate where help has been needed but the sheds are very much by the men and for the men. Over 35 men - and some women- have now attended the Galashiels Shed. In Jedburgh the shed has 14 members. Hawick and Eyemouth have recently started but have already attracted over 30 men between them.

Each shed has developed its own identity and no two are the same. They have developed their own rules and everyone and anyone is welcomed. Some have now become constituted with their own management commitees and are run entirely by those attending. A first meeting of ‘shedders’ from Galashiels, Jedburgh, Hawick and Eyemouth has recently been held with all looking forward to more sharing of ideas, equipment, and stories!

For those involved new friendships have been formed, new skills developed, hobbies and pastimes have been pursued and numerous projects completed for community groups. At a time of buzzwords around health , inequalities and social justice - the sheds are playing their part.

All involved do so of their own free will and in their own time and are all contributing to the strengthening of their local community- the essence of volunteering in its many forms.

To find out more about Men’s Sheds visit http://www.scottishmsa.org.uk/ or email me n.sargent@vcborders.org.uk