- 1.A mans best friend is his shed – Part one
- 2.A mans best friend is his shed – Part two
The Men’s Shed group is an international organisation set up to help alleviate the isolation of men caused by, for example, retiring from work. I sat down with Phill Strawn and Noel Collyer to chat about the Havant Shed.
In Australia during the 1990’s, a number of issues were raised about Men’s health. In Australian culture there was little encouragement for men of all ages to socialise and discuss their feelings and wellbeing. This problem was identified at a Men’s Health Conference in the mid-90s and plans were put in place to improve a number of aspects relating to Men’s health.
Out of this was born the Men’s Shed organisation where, in Australia alone, there are now more than 1000 Men’s Sheds. The Havant Men’s Shed is one of the a growing number of community workspaces appearing in the UK.
In the beginning …
How did the Havant Shed come about?
Phill Strawn: John Worley, one of our founder members and currently chairman, discovered there were others in the area with the same idea, and that Council officers and the Charity MIND were already enthusiastic. A gang of four including Andy Pottinger (now of the Portsmouth Shed), Roy Stratton and Ann Chawner called a public meeting which formed the Havant Men’s Shed Association and in August 2014 they were given a key to the former Age Concern building which we now occupy.
Phill: Andy [Pottinger] actually runs two Sheds in Portsmouth. He’s still a member here as well!
And you were there at the start Noel?
Noel Collyer: I’d worked for British Telecom for thirty-two years as an engineer in the London Westminster area, and took voluntary redundancy in 2012 On the recommendation of a friend I applied for, and got, a job with MIND, specifically to work with Men’s Sheds. She thought that it would be perfect for me. She was right about that [laughs]. I helped John to get it up and running, and as a result, I’ve been able to send along clients from MIND when the occasion warrants it.
How did you become involved with the Shed Phill?
Phill: Accidentally [laughs]. I came along for one of the regular Hampshire Police Beat surgeries [Link] that was being held here and I bumped into John Worley. Because I was showing an interest in the workshop facilities, he explained what the Shed was all about and invited me to come along the following week for a chat. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that, after that, I just kept returning.
When was that?
Phill: That was February of this year . John has done a fabulous job of getting this place up and running. If it wasn’t for him, this place wouldn’t exist.
Which came first, the idea or the building?
Phill: Definitely the idea, but we still needed a home. It was through a contact in the Council that John heard about this building. Back then, in 2014, it was in a quite a bad way and had been earmarked for demolition. John put it to the council that if he could get it repaired, thereby saving the Council money, would they let him use it as a base for the Men’s Shed? That’s the short version, anything you can add to that Noel?
Noel: As Phill says, the building was dilapidated and run down; also, it was built using asbestos sheeting, so even the cost to demolish it was prohibitive. The Council agreed that we could take it over, as long as we returned it to them in the state in which we received it. Since moving in, we’ve done an awful lot of work to make it a safe and useable workshop and meeting place. So the Council will get a good deal out of it in the end. Everybody wins [laughs].
How long have you been granted use of the building?
Noel: We’ve been given the lease for fifteen years.
Presumably you have to pay rent?
Noel: The Council have been very generous in that respect and have granted us a peppercorn rent, if asked for.
What work is still outstanding?
Phill: It’s gradually all coming together. The two big items still on the list, are to replace the roof and fit out our small kitchen. Fingers crossed, changing the roof will get rid of the asbestos.
We could do with changing the windows really, as they’re the old metal frames with single glazing, which makes it pretty darn cold during the winter.
We’re in the process of putting in new entrance doors. We’ve done the back doors; the front ones are next.
You had electricity when you moved in?
Phill: Oh yeah, we had all the services. Electricity, gas, water and sewage.
Noel: We had to clear out the drains because they were all backed up, and we put in all new electrics.
Phill: We have a qualified electrician as a member, so he was able to double-check all the rewiring and then get it PAT tested [Portable Appliance Testing] and approved before use. There’s a multitude of skills within the Shed, there’s not much that we can’t do for ourselves. Obviously, we can’t do the roof because of the asbestos, that requires specialist, approved contractors, of course.
How would you describe the original idea for the Shed?
Phill: It’s really to bring men together. To stop them being bored at home or getting depressed through lack of companionship, if they don’t have partners or immediate family. It could just be something that has happened in their lives, which has meant they feel isolated. A lot of fellas who retire early feel a bit lost without the structure of a job, or a purpose to get up in the morning. This can lead to ill-health and depression. Something like this place gives them somewhere to go, meet like-minded people, and not feel as though they’ve reached the end of usefulness.
Noel: It recreates a semi-working environment, which many of the older generation have been used to. So, instead of retiring and everything grinding to a halt, they have somewhere to go and small projects to get involved with, to keep their mind and body active.
How has the Shed been greeted by the local community?
Phill: It’s gone down really well. We’ll get people knocking on the door asking for help to do bits and pieces for, or with, them. We’ve been involved with all sorts of things, from fixing a doorbell, to small-scale landscaping at a local school. We replanted somebody’s rose bed once. Little jobs here and there.
I’ve read that you’ve been involved with some local charities?
Phill: – Yes, we’ve done some work for Naomi House [web link], Rowans Hospice [web link] and the Elizabeth Foundation for the deaf [web link]. We have an ongoing project with the Rowans to replace and repair some benches. That involves metalwork and carpentry, just the sort of thing that we like really.
“Our aim is to undertake community projects as
thanks for all the support people have given us
Where do you get your materials from?
Phill: Actually, the ironwork for two of the benches was spotted on a scrap heap in a Worcester pub and we had some oak timber given to us by Stansted Park, House and Gardens. We’ve been fortunate to have some donations from local businesses in the form or goods or money. Covers of Chichester have been extremely kind to us. They’ve given us new timber and some oak planking. We’ve been fortunate to have money donations from the likes of ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, a lot of big stores. If it wasn’t for this generosity we wouldn’t exist, at least not as we are now.
Sounds like you have the support of everyone
Phill: It’s been going very well really. We’re also in the middle of working something out with the local fire brigade as well. There’s the possibility that some of our members, those who have 4 x 4 vehicles, might be called on in an emergency to ferry people from A to B, if necessary. The blokes in here are eager to do anything to help out, rather than sit at home and turn into vegetables [laughs]
Do you know how many Sheds there are?
Noel: A lot more in Australia, 1000 has often been quoted, because that’s where it all started. But apparently where we are in the south of England, we have more than anywhere else in the UK, per capita. The number is growing all the time, but they’re listed on the UK Shed website.
Phill: There are at least seven within a fifty mile radius of this building; probably more than that.
Are there any restrictions on how many Sheds there can be in an area?
Phill: None at all. There’s another one in the Havant area, less than a mile from here.
That leads on to the obvious question, are Sheds only for men?
Phill: Historically, they have been, and it would be fair to say that the majority are attended by men. But, despite the name of the umbrella group [UK Men’s Shed Association] there is nothing that says they have to be. In fact, there’s a Ladies Shed [Horndean Ladies Shed] just up the road in Waterlooville. We have some ladies with admin roles who are strong supporters behind the scenes here at The Havant Shed. They have defended the right of men to have their own space in the same way that women have it at their clubs – The WI [Women’s Institute] being an example. They visit occasionally to talk to the guys and see how it’s going, what’s needed and give support as required. We have bookkeepers, and Council employees, who are wizards when it comes to looking after the finances etc. We’d be lost without them.
How many lady members does Havant Shed have?
Phill: I think it’s about five at the moment.
Noel: The title of Men’s Shed is a bit of a misnomer really, but it’s tied to their history and origins in Australia.
Phill: … no matter who comes in here, we always make them feel welcome. We’re not rotten to them, we might take the micky a little bit. But it’s all good-humoured.
No age limits on those who join?
Phill: No, our current oldest member is a gentleman who’s 88. Just because someone is older and not so active, doesn’t mean that they should be excluded. If you only want somewhere to have a cup of coffee and a chat, that’s fine. If you want to get more involved, that’s OK as well.
For further information about the Havant Men’s Shed and the organisation in general, feel free to make contact, drop by for an informal chat, or take a look at the Internet links below.
Stay tuned for part two – Men at work
Web Links and References of interest
Havant Men’s Shed
UK Men’s Shed organisation
Australian Men’s Shed organisation
Horndean Ladies Shed
106 Portsmouth Road,
2014 documentary about the Men’s Shed movement
Charities and organisations working with The Havant Men’s Shed
The Rowans Hospice
The Elizabeth Foundation
Naomi House & Jacksplace
Hampshire neighbourhood police
The Race for Life cancer research