Friday 11 July 2014

Men's Sheds are changing lives in London

Continuing our tour of Men’s Sheds, the Triton team visited the Camden Town Shed, which occupies two rooms at the Maiden Lane Community Centre in central London.

Men’s Sheds originated as a response to rural isolation; however that problem is not confined to remote areas. Even in the heart of a major city, loss of social contact and isolation - for retired people in particular - can lead to emotional stress and debilitating physical conditions.  Happily, the Men’s Sheds offer a great opportunity for social contact and a sense of purpose - not to mention tea-drinking and some serious woodwork thrown in!

A Men’s shed does however offer more than a refuge for those in need of companionship. Most have a good range of tools and facilities as well as space to work in and access to materials that would be the envy of many a home workshop. For many members the banter and just working alongside others provides a high spot in the week.   In our short visit we met men and women supporting each other, sharing skills, laughs, and an enthusiasm for life, living and woodworking.  There can be no doubt that the Men’s Sheds Movement enhances  the lives of many of the members who attend - and long may that continue!

The Camden Town Shed encourages its members to work at their own pace and on their own projects, producing goods that can be sold at local fairs to raise funds to support the shed. The shed operates on the principle that men don’t talk about their worries face to face; they talk shoulder to shoulder, whilst working on a practical project. Some of the members arrive with skills to share, and others want to learn new skills from those they meet.
These are the stories of some of the Camden Town members:

Terry was a cabinet maker by trade. Having served an apprenticeship in London, he left the UK in 1968 as one of the ‘Ten Pound Poms’, to start a new life in Australia. He continued his trade successfully and as time went by, was promoted within the firm he worked for, eventually leaving the workshop floor to work in the purchasing department for a furniture and cabinetmaking company.

In 2010 Terry returned to London to care for his elderly mother. With grown up family still in Australia, Terry was keen to make new friends and occupy his spare time productively. Having visited a couple of Men’s Sheds in Australia, the Camden Town Shed was the perfect opportunity to rekindle his enthusiasm for practical projects.  Due to his skill set, Terry was quickly adopted as the Session Supervisor for the shed, where he now helps members get to grips with the various tools and machinery. Mike Jenn, Chairman of the UK Men’s sheds association, acknowledged his skills, saying: “Terry can often tell what’s happening just by listening to the machines. He steps in to help just when needed.”

Terry has a real talent for design and plans projects for the group. The Camden Town Shed has received commissions from local charities and other community organisations, such as a request for a model kitchen for the local children’s play scheme. Previous projects have included a set of specially-designed wooden toys to help educate children with autism; a wooden castle with knock-down targets for a local archery group; and lightweight folding chairs which were sold to raise money to support the shed. 
We hope to publish some of these projects on the Triton Blog very soon. All the projects have to be adaptable, depending on the materials available. With limited funds the Camden Town Shed makes use of mostly reclaimed and recycled timber from donations and building site waste recovered from skips - not that it limits their ingenuity or the finished quality of the projects, judging by the results!

Ray has been coming to the shed for around three months as part of a long-term recovery plan. He had a successful career as a dentist until one day five years ago. Whilst out playing golf, Ray was struck by lightning, leaving him in a coma, after which followed a long-term recovery in hospital. Now physically well, Ray has issues with short-term memory and remaining focused. He initially joined the Camden Town Men’s Shed at the suggestion of a social worker who thought it a positive way for him to get out of the house and meet new people. The engagement with physical tasks, and having projects to complete with the support of other members, has enabled him to manage these sessions without his support worker and regain some independence. When we met Ray he was on the home stretch of a stool project that was looking really great!

Mick joined the shed a year ago. He was spending a lot of time alone at home recovering from cancer, and his social worker recommended he try the shed. Mick spent his working life as a site carpenter, installing roof frames and general large-scale timber construction. With more time on his hands, he was determined to take the opportunity to produce the finer pieces of work he had never tried before. The Camden shed is pretty well-equipped, and this gave Mick the chance to try his hand at wood turning - a skill which he has developed amazingly well.  Much of the work he produces is developed from ideas on his favourite blogs and websites.  Mick recommended  - a great site with lots of videos and plans of simple, practical projects.

We visited the Camden shed on a Wednesday - the one official mixed day when ladies are invited to join. We met Olive, a retired English teacher, who has been interested in woodworking since taking part in an introductory course on woodturning. Since retiring, the woodwork has taken over and Olive is always busy working on projects or developing new ideas. Time at the men’s shed is helpful as she has access to tools and machinery she doesn’t have in her own small shed at home. Her current plan is to extend the size of her bed using recovered and reclaimed timber. We asked Olive what she enjoyed most about her days at the shed. “It’s the company,” she said, “and the lack of fussing from the men.”

Tell us about your Shed.

If you are involved with a community woodworking project, let us know with a comment below. We may even drop by for a visit! 


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