Our Tour of Men’s Sheds continues with a visit to a shed at the heart of a community in rural Somerset, England. The Wincanton Men’s Shed in Somerset UK, has found itself a slightly unusual setting. They are based at the Balsam Centre, a locally owned and run community centre in the town, which makes good use of a former community hospital. The Balsam Centre supports all aspects of the community, running several adult groups and classes as well as being Children’s Centre.The Men’s Shed is in an old store room and the disused hospital mortuary. Annette Yoosenfinejad is the volunteer coordinator for the Balsam Centre and works with the wide variety of local organisations that use its facilities, these include the Growing Space a terrific charity that supports local people who are recovering from, or currently experiencing, mental ill health, or whose disability or disadvantage can be redressed through developing a happier, more content lifestyle. Much of their work is hands on with horticulture. Annette saw a TV report about Men’s Sheds and decided this was something that could address similar issues of social isolation for Men in their area.
Unlike most of the UK Men’s Sheds the Wincanton group was founded by Women. They advertised the idea and organised an initial meeting to look for interest. They had certainly hit the mark with regard to local need, as 29 local men turned up for a breakfast meeting to express their interest. The shed was soon up and running, borrowing some tools and with a small amount of seed funding from the Big Lottery Fund and the help of an E-Bay search, they were able to buy former woodworking benches from a school in Kent. The dealer who sold them was so impressed by the idea that he delivered them for free.
The group had a few of their early sessions organised for them, but are now setting their own agenda and working on projects for the local community. They have made planting troughs and a garden sieve to support Growing Space on their site. Following a visit from the Hawk and Owl Trust and a small donation from the trust the guys have made owl box’s to be put up locally. This however is just the start, taking a lead from other UK Men’s Sheds they are exploring a range of activities and hope to become involved with the other community groups based at the Balsam Centre. A real bonus for the group is help from a number of local sawmills and furniture making companies who have donated their offcut timber for the Men’s Shed to make good use of.
When we visited it was clear from the men we met, that sharing their accumulated skills and experience with younger people in a mentoring role was something they were very keen to do. Given the unique structure and wide range of organisations based at the Balsam Centre this looks like the perfect match. Longer term plans are subject to securing sufficient funding, they are aiming to have a purpose built shed in a new facility alongside the Growing Space group and to swell their numbers overtime and share the support and comradeship they have experienced to more men in the local area.
The UK Men’s Sheds Association offers practical advice to those wanting to set up a shed in the UK. There’s also the chance to link up with other sheds across the country. They can be contacted via their website; www.Menssheds.org.uk