Looking Forward, Continuing to help people

As Shedders we  know that the  purpose of Sheds is not just to bring together an interest group for people wanting to “play in a workshop” , they are also for people who have the need to rediscover who they are, what they are capable of, and to do that alongside  other fellow travellers.

It’s family!“, was the statement made by a woman in a very early meeting before we started the She Shed.

We have to look forward as family and to build on the foundation we have made.  Our ambition is not to just increase the number of Sheds in our region, though we will help anyone who has the dream to do that – there are rural places where there would be benefit. 

We have over the four and a half years of our existence collaborated with others, most notably those who introduce potential Shedders to us. Very little in life is a single, all encompassing, independent operation. People need each other and so do organisations.

It is very pleasing to see Whitby Community Alliance (WCA) form and for Whitby District Sheds to join with that move. Something aimed at helping organisations help each other – Shed-like for organisations!!

More will be coming out publicly from WCA next week.

We’ve followed Frome’s story with Shed founder Patrick Abraham’s. 

As you may know from recent blogs, a book “The Compassion Project” was published three weeks ago. This has added a lot of background detail to that previously published in articles, including the background happenstance of individual people coming together with a vision – not a deeply thought out plan but a clear direction.

A key part of the story in Frome was the formation of a body of people who went about day to day activities but with alertness to others in their community (so called Community Connectors). Connectors started with small numbers but over the years the number has built to around 1500. ***

Talking Cafes were also established, informal local places in commercial cafes where people could meet and needs and ideas could be shared.***

Connectors and Talking Cafes worked hand in hand and drew on a Directory of activities that the Medical Practice had launched.

It is NOT run from the top – it is run in community. Clearly help is given from a wide variety of community bodies (agency and voluntary) but more with encouragement and support than direction. 

So Graham, with Roger’s assistance, has been busy analysing the book and thinking through whether and how it might work in Whitby. What the outcomes might be if such a community self-help layer was added. Quite a bit of material has been brought together but for now here is one picture to ponder upon.

Here is some text to go with it to unravel the mystery of the pyramid:-)

  1. The people of Whitby and district are individuals. We may classify them by age, gender, location, needs etc. but in most respects they are unique individuals.
  2. The majority occupy themselves in what they must do or want to do. They get around (in old normal times) and have social relationships (belonging to a number of micro communities of interest). They feel they have a place and role that is important to others (beginning with family, of course) and that life has purpose.
  3. However, there are others who fall through the gaps – they have areas in their life where they are not involved and occupied or are struggling with what they are doing. They are the hard to reach and socially isolated. This includes mental health where the mind says you are cut-off and of no use when in fact you are! Many people will suffer this way at one time or another, or possibly near permanently if acute. It’s the working domain of the Sheds really and other similarly distracting actions.
  4. There are services of all kinds, both agency and voluntary, that are bridges for people with different needs to cross to get back more fully into life. This is where the Alliance members AND others work. Not to simply be providers of entertainment but to help people transform their circumstances and feelings.
  5. Those who staff these services are PEOPLE from the communities around us. Few are paid. Voluntary for the love of people! The services provided are FOR the communities. This is indicated by the two arrow ears!
  6. Moving upwards in the pyramid there’s a whole confusion of organisations, hard pressed, that go right up to UK Government and wider than that really in our connected world.
  7. What is missing is a “flexible helping hand” for people. A permanent service delivered in a natural manner by local communities for themselves but not intended to be a permanent feature for any individual. They are a staging post with a purpose to gradually get folk into more independent life using the many yellow and green tools. Restoring and repurposing people. We see it in Sheds quite dramatically sometimes but it happens elsewhere too, thankfully, but not recounted enough. Stories/accounts are the proof of the pudding so often.
  8. The Connectors are rather like Whitby Street Angels roving on a weekend night, alert for people in vulnerable situations whilst connecting with locals and visitors to protect and preserve wellbeing. The Directory is required as a source of knowledge for Connectors, professionals and Joe Public to consult. Street Angels have a number of tools and information to meet the needs of people (such as lollipops, flip-flops and walkie-talkies to summon help!). Then there needs to be easy access, natural places for people to drop into that are not “clinics”. Frome found commercial cafés great for the purpose but there may be problems in a busy place like Whitby. However, there are sometimes rooms over cafés that can be offered to accommodate 10 – 20 people for an hour or so to meet over coffee.
  9. There will be unexpected, organic outcomes from this – not target driven – which empower a place (not a region) and where contributions can be made by many different streams and individuals. Are Councils and Agencies needed? Yes but more as NYY Stronger Communities behaves, as facilitators and co-workers. 
  10. The Alliance is good news, not shown on the diagram for simplicity but this coming together is crucial in our opinion. Graham is working on how best to show it:-). Done that now and put at the very end of the blog just to keep things simple!!!  You must be joking.

Reminder of the territory that is Whitby district

The patch covered breaks into areas that seem to us to have affinity, based on geography. Our Sheds are in 4 of the areas.  

 ***  Here are edited sections from The Compassion Project  book to read what Talking Cafes and Community Connectors in Frome are:


In 2013, Health Connections Mendip set up the first talking café to be established in the UK.

Jenny tells the story of the informal way in which that came about:

There were people coming to me saying I don’t want a specific support group, I just want to talk to other people. So I thought that a “talking café” sounded a nice title. I put it in the diary – if I put something in the diary, I know it will always happen. The first one was held in the Cheese and Grain in Frome. The place wasn’t normally open on a Monday morning but they agreed to open the café really early. There were no groups using the space upstairs so I invited in the Health Walks and helped to set up meetings for the MS exercise group.  People were soon streaming into what had been an empty space to do these exercise groups. It built up an energy down there. Then a Job Club started upstairs

One of three Talking Cafes in Frome open at different times during the week. There’s even one for young mums.

The talking café is simply a place where people are free to meet informally and talk about anything that matters to them. These are no membership rules, no agendas that determine the tropics of conversation and new people are always warmly welcomed. The invitation is simple and in the name, and the reason people tum up is to talk, often just wanting to chat with others who feel the same way.

The success of Frome’s several talking cafes demonstrates that people are more than ready  to engage in conversation with people they have never previously met. They do it in ways which may simply be a pleasurable means of passing a morning or may be the start of rich new pattern of friendship. Taking part in such a relaxed social arrangement can even change lives. As Barbara touchingly put it “If it wasn’t for the talking café I would have a lonely experience. It has helped me look forward to getting up on Monday morning”.

At every talking café someone from Health Connections Mendip, or a trained community connector, will be present in case people are in need of specific information or want to be signposted to a place where they are able to find things out for themselves.

Patrick Abrahams started the Men’s Shed there. Men’s Shed is a nationwide movement in which men, and women for Women’s Sheds, can meet together and take part in a common interest of making and mending. As with other groups, the common interest is a way of people coming together with the by-product of love, laughter and friendship. 

A regular attender at the talking café, Patrick Abrahams says:

I love coming down here, meeting all kinds of people. You can meet someone who has just arrived and may be isolated and lonely. It can be hard for people to go through the door into a new room full of people. I can invite them to the Shed and they will say, “Will you be there?”  They need to know when they go through the door that they can say ‘hi’ to someone they know. It’s really beneficial to allow people to join softly without any commitment. They will often see people who are like them, be it man or woman, young or old.

On his local radio show Shed Happens on Frome FM, Patrick interviewed Matt, who described how he had come to join the Men’s Shed when he was off work, following an intense period of stress:

I had a bit of a breakdown at work. I was diagnosed with depression. The doctor suggested I go down the Cheese and Grain to have a chat with people. The appealed to me. I thought depression was all my all my fault. But you are not judged at the talking café or the shed. I met up with Patrick who suggested l came along to the Men’s Shed. I met the most amazing guys I think I have ever met.  Had a chat, no one was there to judge, and there were other people who had problems similar to myself. . .


Though much thought, care and planning went into the creation of the Health Connections Mendip project, there was no five-year plan or complicated document setting out its development.

Jenny Hartnoll had seen how people’s well-being could he improved by contacting them to peer support groups or appropriate social agencies.  Community health champions – a voluntary position can be key agents in this. They are defined by the National Health Service as:

People who, with training and support, bring their ability a relate people and their own life experience to transform health and well-being in their communities. Within their families, communities and workplaces they empower and motivate people to get involved in healthy social activities, create groups to meet local needs and signpost people to relevant support and services. . . .

Jenny knew that the work of such people would be an immensely beneficial asset to the work of Health Connections Mendip. but the intensive training programme for a health champion takes up to nine hours which seemed an unrealistic expectation to impose on local volunteers, so she devised a briefer, two-hour period of training  to suit local needs to create a team of local “community connectors”.  

The programme would first explain the way the project fitted into the provision of healthcare and social welfare and then show how the directory of local resources could be used by the community connectors to bring help and support to those in need. The training began on a small scale  until quite soon a team of over one thousand community connectors was active throughout Frome and the surrounding area.

Though the title ‘community connector’ may have a slightly official ring, it simply describes human beings who have become socially efficient at deploying their own good nature, whether as a friend, neighbour or casual acquaintance. The range of people trained as community connectors around Frome is now remarkably wide. They are beacons of compassion in the community. Simply by having information at their fingertips their natural compassion comes into play whenever called upon as they go about their lives.


The principle on which community connectors work ls based is very simple. It draws on that deep well of compassion that makes its otherwise unrecognized presence clearly felt when, in the normal course of conversation, we hear about another person’s troubles and feel a real desire to help. The problem in that we do not always know what the best way of helping might be. The motivation may be there but without adequate means to put it into action we are at a loss. However, if we have access to a directory of local resources and are trained in its use, we are equipped to become more than a sympathetic bystander. We know where appropriate help can be found and how to share or signpost someone to that knowledge. What might have been only a kindly conversation now has somewhere to go. (+++ NYCC has such a Directory being currently refined)

A quietly expressed need for help, support or advice can arise spontaneously in many different contexts – while chatting to one’s hairdresser, for example, or overhearing by chance someone talking in a pub. A person clearly in distress after a recent bereavement might be helped by the knowledge that a group of such people meets for mutual support and consolation at the health centre or in a talking café every other week. 

The larger the number of trained connectors who are active in a community, the more likely it becomes that such helpful conversations will happen and the greater the impact on the overall quality of community life.

In addition to hairdressers, bartenders and café proprietors, trained community connectors include, among others taxi drivers, shopkeepers, pharmacists, police community support workers and school sixth-formers. Professionals such as police officers, ambulance paramedics and accident and emergency staff who meet people in all kinds of trouble can also make good use of a trained knowledge of community resources to direct people to the help they may urgently ed. It is in fact, a role open to anyone who wishes to train.

Simply by relying on the goodwill and compassion of ordinary people, and by providing them with the tools to access good information, Jenny Hartnoll and her team at Health Connections Mendip have made it possible for almost everyone in the local Community to be reached in time of need by simple word of mouth.





How would this benefit the work of our Sheds?

What’s in it for us! If you have read what Patrick Abrahams is quoted as saying above about the Talking Cafe, there should be an automatic connection. The cafe culture (and it need not be restricted to that) is one way that those not connected into support can find out about welcoming activities possibly suitable for them. It is not a place to “jump” on people but where a person can discover what’s on offer for them and be signposted informally to it. The Directory is an important source of knowledge, but it is not intended to be an independent tool – it needs some “interpretation” to people. Maybe think of it as a scrapbook. My surgery has a ring file of some of the opportunities to connect which is placed in the waiting room. There is a screen display also to catch the eye of waiting patients (in normal times) as part of the “entertainment”!

What’s in it for Sheds is a path for people to discover us, particularly if they are not (yet) involved with support in some way. Leaving the person in control. A very good new service is the Link Workers associated with the Heartbeat Alliance of medical practices in Whitby area. Their background is in the voluntary sector, not medical practice, but they also reflect the way Frome tackled the problem of loneliness. The Link Workers are commissioned through Coast and Vale Community Action (the “Totally Socially” people!)

Covid-19 has caused Sheds to move towards online presence. At present, we have implemented broadband, wall mounted large monitor, Firestick and camera so that “retired” Shedders can look in on us from their homes (when we are open again!). Another opportunity is that Link Workers and our usual referrers will be able to effect an introduction to us from their desk. It is all about easing the way for people to meet “us” and, if appropriate, become Shedders:-)

How would it benefit other service providers?

Much the same as for Sheds. Allowing people to discover and, if necessary, be helped to connect to an activity or service that may benefit them. Might be more than one thing, of course. 

It is a network, no more and no less. It allows all Alliance members and non-members to contribute to evolution and to benefit from it – always remembering it is really for the benefit of the people of Whitby district at the end of the day. The whole purpose of “charitable organisations”.

THANKS TO all those involved over the past 6 years in Frome to bring something solid like this to market. Particularly Dr Helen Kingston and Jenny Hartnoll from Frome Medical Practice but not forgetting our mate Patrick Abrahams who started the Frome Shed at the same time that the Frome project was happening on the ground. It was Patrick’s surprise visit to SAMS Place at Littlebeck last year when fortunately Graham was away that was the final thing to kick off a visit to see for ourselves the Compassion Project.

Australian experience (Oi, Oi, Oi!)

For family and Shed reasons (get a life!) Australia and Australians there have had an impact on me since 2011 (before that if I include my daughter-in-law:-)) 

Now, Frome is often called a model. In reality however it’s  a mindset. That mindset is in Australia is a culture and an ethos kids grow up in. The expectation in Australia in country towns (like Whitby but without visitors!) is that people gravitate to volunteering in many of its forms. Many things have a heavy volunteer and indeed church base too with the latter still a pretty active, involved bunch (not universal there I’m sure). 

People know they need each other for support and they thrive on “we’ll get on with it!”. 

Is it absent in Whitby district? NO! The main difference I feel is that we do not talk about it in day to day terms and our “reserved nature” says to not draw it to public attention. I believe that is right at the 1:1 level but that volunteering in a semi-organised way, bottom up, should be known about so that it enters our culture at home and school and is there for post retirement (and before!) . We’ve seen a lot of mutual support born during Covid-19. Stronger Together in Whitby in Covid-19 Facebook evidenced that to a significant degree.

I’m pleased that two other things have happened. There will be more!

  1. Whitby Community Alliance was born and before Covid struck as lockdown. It was premeditated and not a reaction therefore
  2. NYCC and Whitby Gazette started a weekly page dedicated to “Salt of the Earth” people most of us would not know. All ages and places.

These are actions that publicise the spirit of “we can do it”, and we should 🙂

“Frome is a mindset and that’s the only thing we in Whitby can copy.  The rest is down to our own enterprise involves and has to be all own work!

How much work is it for Connectors?

It is not a “job” as such. There is a job element for them in being available (on rota maybe) at Talking Cafes. In other respects it is more about being a “presence”. Some training is required (one session). That is important so all have the same understanding of what they are supposed to do and what they should not do. Essentially, Connectors are individuals from different backgrounds and experiences. Don’t expect to see any Shedder wearing a tabard saying, “I’m a Shedder and I want to connect you!”. Some Shedders may become Connectors in their own right, of course, but the two roles are quite separate. 

AND NOW for something completely different . . .

An interesting email arrived from someone  who Graham has met on weekly group Zoom meetings. David is from just across the border in Scotland . . . .

I am staggered David is 88! He doesn’t look it and doesn’t behave like it. in 13 years time I want to be as well preserved! I think we all should feel pleased (yes, even proud) of what we have done together in our Whitby District Sheds. Real camaraderie but also we have kept broad interests in community development. It is that which has stood us in good stead in the Whitby Community Alliance.

Hi Graham,

Thank you for your Sheds link.

I must say that although I thought I had some idea of what the movement was about I have been  astonished and impressed with the wider aims that I am now aware of. The reason I have not replied sooner is that I have opened every link on the Whitby website you sent, from Sams to Australia , and found it all so interesting and impressive.  

Your commitment shines through and you must be quietly proud of what has been achieved locally and more widely. My very best wishes for future success.

Still slowly coming out of lockdown North of the Border. My son and daughter in law came down from Perth yesterday to help celebrate my 88th, suitably distanced. They insisted they brought dinner with them and all I had to do was set the table. Very naughty of them but a lovely few hours. Another achievement yesterday  was my first haircut in 4 months after being 5th in the queue at 8am. 

Look forward to catching up by Zoom on Monday

Take care



Graham replied that if David had looked at all the links he needs to get a life:-)


People’s Health Trust – the funders of Staithes Shed

A Covid-19 report has just been published.





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