The Men’s Sheds movement has become a national phenomenon in recent years, giving those who might otherwise be reluctant to socialise a reason to get together.
Sleights was an early adopter of the idea and, five years later, one of those behind the original idea values it so much he has just moved the group into his own domestic garage.
Graham Storer recognised the value of giving otherwise isolated men an “excuse” to share each other’s company by putting them in a workshop with the opportunity to share their skills.
The idea came from Australia and particularly the rural country towns where community Sheds proved a solution to the needs of many retired men missing the relationships and banter of their work life. Many felt cut off, short of motivation and low in mood. Sheds made socialising possible.
A County Council Stronger Communities grant got the Sleights Area Men’s Shed (SAMS) off the ground in the back room of a Methodist chapel in 2016, soon extending to a nearby annex for larger equipment.
However, in 2020 the annex became no longer available and the step was taken during lockdown to temporarily move the equipment to Graham’s garage, using a typical Men’s Shed solution of adding a garage extension using a caravan awning to give members additional elbow room.
While the coronavirus pandemic has inevitably meant face-to-face meetings have been off for the last year, members have continued contact via Zoom meetings in a re-invented Talking Sheds at the Kitchen Table form.
Now the group is preparing for the moment when physical sessions can resume, allowing members to get back to what Graham describes as Last of the Summer Wine antics.
“I have always known that I would need something like this for myself,” he said, “I would need something to occupy me, but not in isolation.
“When I moved to Sleights nearly 10 years ago I found things were closing down. I thought ‘crumbs, this isn’t good’ because things can become insular.”
Activities including a chair-based exercise class eventually gave way to setting up SAMS in Littlebeck in March 2016. A camaraderie developed among members, with sessions twice a week to help ensure it became an embedded part of people’s regular routines.
“In essence, it is like family. There is interest in helping one another and a sense of mutual caring. One person will help someone else even outside the Shed sessions.” Said Graham.
Some of the impacts have been little short of remarkable, such as two members with advancing dementia who focused on dominoes when they were together at the Shed.
Others share their skills, using a variety of tools more likely to be found in the workplace, including a lathe, vertical drill, band saw and table saw.
Member Bob Hodge, who helped to set up the project with Graham, turned his skill of making walking sticks to creating small rustic chairs for teddy bears.
“Sheds are not about equipment, or lavish premises, it is about people,” said Graham. “If you can get someone to come to the Shed for two or three weeks, they will probably stay because they start to feel they belong, rather than because you are mollycoddling them.
“I liken it to Last of the Summer Wine, it is for blokes being slightly idiotic, if not to the level they go on television,” he said.
Two years ago, working with others, SAMS spawned Kids Making Good sessions for youngsters, tailored to captivate the interests of that age group with experts like beauticians proving popular. That was set up in recognition of the fact that youth groups familiar to older generations no longer really exist, though the sessions have been curtailed due to the pandemic.
Graham accepts SAMS may be a little “rusty” when the shed sessions resume, but there is little doubt they will quickly be operating as smoothly as the well-oiled tools members use.
Bob Hodge said: “Sheds has been great, I have always looked forwards to it. We have become a family and although lockdown has separated us we do keep in touch with each other. It has filled quite a vacuum.”
In the longer term, the group is in need of a new permanent home, however, and Graham said: “Sleights Shed is on the lookout for premises that could accommodate the friendship group and its creative distraction! Can you help?”