In the Beginning . . . how the Sheds Happened

It is more than 4 years since the decision was made to act on an idea that had been conceived 8 months earlier. in January 2015.

A typical shot in Sale Men’s Shed. (in Jan 2015)

Graham had seen an Australian Shed in Sale, Victoria whilst on urban walkabouts with his 7 year old grandson. A place for mainly older men but some younger men to meet up without women and regain some of their former lives, many as tradesmen.  Building site banter and mild mischief making. Graham was aware that he was growing older and would need something like this to while away his time with  a bit of mischief:-).

Time was not right to start it because Graham was already busy with activities that included Street Angels, foodbank4whitby and Fit-4-You (a fortnightly chair based exercise (and fun) class). Bob Hodge was involved in joint work with Graham for the first time on a Thursday morning “social” at Briggswath and some months later on InSleights, an event for older people with them involved in running it, and preparing for a a wellbeing follow on called the Feelgood Factory. These prepared the ground (without realising it) for something more ambitious that Bob and Graham would embark on. The Sleights Area Men’s Shed (SAMS).

How did it happen? Graham had worked with a retired (but very active) project manager, Don, on the formative stages of a building project that terminated after the planning stage. Don had also met Bob also during the course of his informal, unpaid consultancy. It is true to say that at the moment of deciding to take a leap of “faith” it was Bob, myself and Don (though he may not have realised it) that gave the confidence to put a foot forward, when in our part of the world Sheds were not on anyone’s map.

Kate Bennet of Living Well in 2017 with Bert.

But how to move forward? Call (on) a friend. The friend was Ian Peck (then of Coast and Vale Community Association and now Whitby DAG). Ian had helped with professionalism in helping the Food Bank to get off the ground and to establish a registered status). A man with handy connections who pointed Graham to Karen Atkinson of NYCC Stronger Communities and Kate Bennet of NYCC Living Well Whitby team who were just beginning a service to receive placement referrals from NHS. Both were first class with concept evaluation and practical advice (and funding from Stronger Communities programme). They were relationships of mutual help that continue to today. Trust, no less. Important qualities that have been developed subsequently with others.

Premises? The killer problem for true Sheds is that they have some heavy duty equipment that cannot be easily magic-ed away! Littlebeck Methodist Church gave the Shed the opportunity to use their schoolroom. We moved in our famous big green box made in Graham’s garage.

The Shed formally opened on 4th March 2016 with a rag-tag bunch of men who had met mostly by accident and were each at some kind of a loss. Hence, a needs led venture.

Within a year two women had come whose well being benefited very markedly and we took the decision to start what was arguably the first Men’s Shed for women in UK. That is, women doing precisely the kind of thing the men do and with the same level of banter – good natured but there!

Roger will pick up the story of the venue for the “She Shed” in Whitby in his account. From there a Men’s Shed in Whitby and then a Shed in Staithes (proposed by 3 then residents) and now one in “The Bay”. Brian and Elaine will pick up these stories in their accounts.

Next came the realisation of need for the wellbeing of children and young people, who are just as susceptible to isolation as adults with electronics encouraging the isolation too. We will pick up this story below, but first a picture of timescales of Sheds.

Dragons Investment

The tail of the Catherine Wheel contains several examples of diversification. One that started in summer 2018 was work with the Youth Justice Service, arising from a chance approach. The manner in which the Sheds worked with the supervisor to facilitate a young offender with reparation to his victim set the idea of a pop up Shed for YJS and then a permanent workshop at the fire station in Scarborough. Let things happen!

Two workshops with Eskdale Secondary School and Eskmouth Scouts in the early summer of 2018 (through introductions by the UK Men’s Shed Association) led to the idea of Kidz Making Good and workshops for 8 – 15 year olds that are “hands on”. That has run since February 2019 in half terms and some Saturday mornings.

Alongside this periodic activity that is Whitby-wide is a Friday evening Youth Shed in Sleights that has opened in October 2019. An action that depends on family and community involvement. It’s nothing new, but in terms of the situation with youngsters’ wellbeing now, it is new.

In this work the active support (and co-leadership) of Janine Pemberton has been very significant indeed. Janine will explain her take on things and some of the directions in which community collaboration has taken Sheds and Scouts in Whitby and Sleights.

BIG Community is what Sheds stand on the edge of at this very point in time. Many trusting local relationships (NYCC Stronger Communities, Living Well and CaVCA Totally Socially) that have developed place everyone in the position of OPPORTUNITY with what is being referred to as Compassionate Communities, of which Frome and Fleetwood are two working examples. The idea of people and organisations working together because they want to!

Some individual stories follow. More should be added soon. They are interactions between persons and Sheds. Each story is different and in the words of the person.

Intersecting Story One

I’ve lived in Whitby or 3 years but was a little shy and not socially interactive. I felt cut off.

Someone who knew me quite well suggested I look at the Whitby Women’s Shed and I came down. I really enjoyed the activity there. I started with pyrography, china mosaics and the wood lathe. All new things to me.

What kept me coming, however, was the friendships I made there. We are all different which makes it a very interesting place and there are a range of different things going on for us to do. Every week is different.

It is quite laid back but we are encouraged to be active and to interact with each other. I have been knitting for Britain at the Shed – making blankets, headbands, scarfs and hats. It has brought me out of my shell.

I enjoy the laughter and the banter in the place with men as well as women. I feel it is a very safe for me to be me. I have made great progress and improvements in relationships with others in my Shed family.

It is a safe, happy, comfortable environment and I have encouraged others to come. I meet new people, learn new skills, feel happy and are pleased to be with others.

Intersecting Story Two

My love affair with Sheds started 2 years ago. My cousin who had early onset dementia came back to life after going to one in Manchester and I’d seen articles about Littlebeck, so when one was opening in Whitby I took the plunge.

It was a big deal for me to walk into that room with complete strangers. After looking after a husband, four children, elderly parents and a career in care, retirement came as a huge shock. My husband works long hours at night and so the house has to be silent during the day, and we live in quite an isolated place. I found myself doing long dog walks ,wondering if this was “it” and if so I didn’t like it one bit.

My husband didn’t understand why I was unhappy, a lot of people may enjoy putting their feet up after a lifetime of work, but not me. We also had a son who has mental health issues living with us and so things reached breaking point. After over 40 years of marriage we were discussing separating, i realised i had to do something and the Shed appeared as that something.

From week one i knew I’d found a place that would bring about a huge change in me. My confidence grew and pretty quickly, with the help of Charlotte Angus from Totally Socially, I started Whitby Beach Sweep. It isn’t just about collecting rubbish off the beach, but also another way of bringing people together who may like me, be lonely or isolated.

Cala Beck community allotment was another project I became involved in and the Shed gave support to that by making steps for the plot and a mud kitchen for children visiting to play with.

More recently, I’ve joined others to start a new Shed near to where I live. I’ve met such lovely people on my 2 year journey and I’ve been pushed to the limits of my capabilities   would I change a thing? Absolutely not, just ask my husband, he has got the wife he used to have back again.

It’s his turn soon as he retires at Christmas. Thankfully, through my involvement with my groups, he won’t find himself in the same situation as me.

Intersecting Story Three

The Men’s Shed at Littlebeck has become a part of my life that I needed….. But go back to before that.

After living in South Africa for twenty years, returning to the UK in 2005 was quite a challenge …. having worked  in the supermarket business during that period and managing stores in northern SA and in Mozambique which entailed lots of travel and time away from home…. retirement left me an empty soul ….

Living in Sleights was somewhat different to the lifestyle of SA….. I was determined to find something to get involved with, which didn’t happen for a few years…..

One morning when walking up to our Doctors Surgery I came across a certain guy who was busy gardening and cutting his hedge! I spoke with him and we had a natter for quite while …. he was new to the village and was looking for something to get his teeth into ….

A little while later he spoke with me about a project that he was involved with at a local chapel …. He asked me if I would like to go with him so he could introduce me to exactly what was about to happen and what he envisaged for the future…I had found something to get involved In and with!!!!

He happened to be Graham Storer …. since that time I have been a part of a couple of projects with Graham …. In 2015 after an holiday in Australia he returned with the idea of starting a Men’s Shed, through his contact with Littlebeck Chapel who, were prepared to allow the back room of the Chapel to be used for The Men’s Shed.

The rest is history and the future looks very interesting with other projects in their infancy …… The involvement reminded me of my teenage years after losing my Mother at fourteen years old still at School….. I joined the local YMCA in the town I lived, in the West Riding…. The very same situation!!!! I needed something and somewhere to belong…..It was the finest thing I did at that age …. I had found myself a “new home” in some way …. It was a learning period which put me on the straight and narrow and involved me in many projects and sport…..

Age is a number, retirement can be like a prison sentence for some people…. mental health problems need addressing in their infancy……the Shed offers a solution, a place to go.. a future with other such people who also have needed to replace that “something” in their life !!!!      One of our Shedders described the Shed as “a breath of mental fresh air”!!!

Intersecting Story Four

Living Well and Sleights Area Men’s Shed started at about the same time and have been involved with each other ever since. Nearly 4 years.

Living Well really appreciates all the work the Sheds do in the community and the effort that you and all the Shedders put in to making new people feel welcome. We are always confident in telling people about the wonderful atmosphere of the Sheds and how much they can get out of attending.

Living Well values being able to introduce people to the Sheds as part of our support and we get great feedback from those who go.

Recently, attending a Shed provided an individual not only company, laughs and new skills but also the motivation to get back out into the community independently – which was fantastic to hear about.

Thank you for your continued co-working and including the community in what you do so well.

Living Well will keep promoting Whitby Area Sheds as the overall impact it can make on positive well-being is great for everyone involved.

 Intersecting Story Five

I grew up as a Tom boy with 3 brothers plus Mam and Dad.  Dad was always making things and I loved helping him. He was always measuring and cutting wood so this is where my love story began when I was 3 years old and helping my Dad mix cement to build our shed.

As I grew up and bought my first house I discovered that builders saw a single woman with £ signs above her head and totally took advantage (or tried!). They soon realised I wasn’t daft. I did most of my DIY jobs with my small son. We did fencing, plastering walls, a loft conversion, fireplaces and more.  You get the idea.

I actually enrolled on a wood working course at Redcar and Cleveland College, but after contacting them several times realised they were not interested in me joining which I so disappointed me!!

Life had been tough for about 6 years but I kept busy and kept working through it. Then in August 2016 my world suddenly changed.

I lost my older brother and my job within two weeks of each other, and then in November the same year my Dad passed away also. I was totally floored.

A friend found an article in The Whitby Gazette; it read ‘Women Wanted for the Men’s Shed’. My calling . . . . I rang the number and went the next week from Redcar to Littlebeck and SAMS Shed.

I was so down and very alone – but when I entered that tiny hall I felt I had found lots of Dad replacements and felt cared for by total strangers.  I could not have wished for a kinder more caring group of men.  It is now 3 years on and my life is back on track and into work full time again.

I miss my Shed time so much and its contribution to my weekly wellbeing. I’d love an evening ShedJ.



Here is an article published in Country Ways, a magazine for Rural Churches published by the Arthur Rank Centre


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