Shed load: the pioneering project that's tackling men's loneliness

Men’s Sheds are great places. Without them, I’m not sure where I would be

NEWLY retired after decades of travelling around Scotland as a training consultant in the sewage industry, Paul Munday found himself wondering “what’s next?”

“My wife was out with her friends, having lunch, doing yoga, and I was sitting in the house looking at four walls,” explains the softly-spoken 66-year-old from East Kilbride. “I knew I had to find something else to do.”

The “something else” turned out to be the Men’s Shed movement, an innovative programme tackling isolation and loneliness in older men.

It has been running across the country for a couple of years, inspired by the original Australian concept which brought together men from all walks of life to chat, share skills and get involved in workshop projects.

In a Scottish first, and thanks to £117,000 from the Big Lottery Fund, it is now taking to the road in South Lanarkshire.

The shed-on-wheels will travel through communities across the region, raising awareness of the idea and hopefully encouraging more groups to set up their own static shed.

Christine Calder, of South Lanarkshire Council’s Seniors Together team explains: “The idea started in Australia in 2007 as a tool exchange, where men met up to work on different craft projects. But then, they started to speak to each other, about bereavement, divorce, loss of status in retirement.

“The organisers realised that the men’s shed had created a positive environment – that was an alternative to the bookie’s or the pub - for people who might otherwise have been hard to reach.”

She explains: “Women tend to look at each other much more when they talk but men are more comfortable working side by side. That’s when they start to speak about things that matter to them.”

Groups started to spring up across the UK and in 2015, the Scottish Men’s Shed Association was formed to help ‘shedders’ running their own projects around the country.

Calder adds: “What we were hearing at Seniors Together was that finding premises was a real issue. I was in the supermarket car park one day and saw the mobile breast screening bus and thought – why couldn’t we do something like that for Men’s Sheds?”

After researching the idea with focus groups, who were overwhelmingly in support of the plan, the first shed-on-wheels (a refurbished mobile library) hit the road last month.

“The idea is to raise awareness of the movement, and to gauge interest across the council area,” adds Calder. “We are hoping to reach around 2500 men over the next three years. A development worker will travel with the shed, which will remain in each area for 12 weeks, with the aim of helping people set up their own static shed.”

She smiles: “Long after the mobile shed has moved on, the support will still be there for the men who need it.”

Councillor Jim McGuigan, South Lanarkshire’s spokesperson for Older People, was one of the first to visit the refurbished mobile library and he was full of praise for the initiative.

“The Men’s Shed model has proven particularly successful so far at engaging with individuals who might traditionally be seen as hard to reach,” he explains.

“Becoming a member of a Men’s Shed provides a safe and busy environment where men can meet in an atmosphere of friendship. And, importantly, there is no pressure. Men can just come and have a chat and a cuppa if that is all they’re looking for.”

The Hamilton group was one of the first to form in South Lanarkshire.

Past chairman Norrie Mason, 68, says: “It’s a great project, and it means different things to different people. Some of the men who come to our group are recovering from illnesses, including brain injuries, and it’s about getting their motor skills and mobility back. Others just like the banter.”

Mason retired from his career as an engineer, based in Motorola in East Kilbride, 17 years ago, but has taken on a string of different jobs and voluntary roles ever since, including working for a charity and in a coffee shop, and a spell as a school support assistant.

“When you retire, you miss male companionship if you have had that all your working life,” he says, simply. “If you don’t enjoy golf or bowling, you are stuck.

“I went along to the Men’s Shed just to see what it was all about, and I’ve been involved ever since.

“It was fantastic to get the support from Hamilton Accies, who gave us the room. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

The camaraderie between the men who go along is key to its success, says Mason.

“We got a call a few weeks ago to ask if women could join,” he says. “It’s an interesting debate, because the whole point of the men’s shed was about creating an environment in which men felt comfortable, where they felt they could be themselves.

“Women would alter the dynamic. They are social in a different way. So I think there has been resistance to women joining, only for that reason. Women’s Sheds are starting to appear now, though, which is fantastic. But a mixed shed is unlikely.”

Paul Munday, who is now secretary of the East Kilbride Men’s Shed, says: “When I went along for the first time, it was just half a dozen smiley people in the local community hall, having a laugh and a joke, and I loved the camaraderie.

“I’m generally a bit of handy person – there’s wood all over the place at home, so I didn’t mind pitching in and offering bits and pieces of advice. But mainly, I like the chat. It keeps my brain active.”

In the car park outside East Kilbride’s John Wright Sports Centre, the mobile shed is creating a lot of interest.

Development worker Paul Creechan is on hand to dispense advice and leaflets, while Men’s Shed volunteers warmly welcome first-time visitors.

A display set up outside shows the range of projects the men have been working on – everything from table lamps fashioned from old rum bottles to simple model train kits, wheelbarrows and bird boxes.

John Hamilton is secretary of the Bellshill Men’s Shed.

“It was my daughter who spotted a sign for it in the local DIY store, while she was searching for some bits and pieces to move in to her new flat,” says Hamilton, 70, a former engineer who regularly travelled to South Africa, Holland and London as part of his job.

“I’d been retired for two years and I’d done nothing.

“My wife, Dale, was out and about, shopping with friends, going to different clubs and activities, but I was doing absolutely nothing. I was sitting at home, watching the telly.”

He adds: “When my daughter said there was a group looking for men who could do DIY, I thought – I could do that.

“And it’s been great. Now my mind is always active and I’m always busy. I’m constantly looking at projects we could do – I’ll be out shopping with Dale and spot an angled wine bottle holder and think - we could make those and sell them to raise funds.

“We’re hoping to start up a bike repair project now in Bellshill, to help people maintain their bikes, rather than send them for scrap. And we’d like to work with local schools too.”

Hamilton adds: “I worked all my life. I worked 12 hour days and didn’t see much of my wife and daughters.

“Helping my daughters, passing on my skills to them, has been great. I get a lot of satisfaction from that. And it keeps me active.”

Charlie Miller was one of the first volunteers to get involved in the Men’s Shed movement in Scotland.

The 64-year-old from East Kilbride found himself unexpectedly isolated and struggling following a sudden illness.

“I was a field archaeologist, working all over the country,” he explains. “This particular day, I’d been feeling unwell, but I’d gone to work – we were on a remote windfarm in Ross-shire, and we had to be on site early morning.

“I remember feeling ill as we walked up to the site, and the next thing I recall was getting airlifted to hospital.”

Diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, Miller was unable to return to work and spent a long recovery at home, where he lived alone.

“I realised just how isolating that can be,” he explains. “I had not long moved to East Kilbride and I knew no one, there was no recovery group, and I felt very cut off.

“When I heard about the Men’s Shed groups, I thought it was great. I set up a local one, and it really helped me get back on my feet.”

Now secretary of the Scottish Men’s Shed Association, Miller is full of praise for the movement and its benefits for men struggling in the aftermath of illness or loss.

“I know many men who come just to get out of the house, to stop staring at blank walls,” he nods. “Mental health is a big issue for many men.

“Men’s Sheds are great places. Without them, I’m not sure where I would be.”

For more information about the project contact the Seniors Together office on 01698 454105 or email