Support network created by Men’s Shed in Swanwick

Tucked away on a farm in a lesser- known area on the outskirts of Swanwick something amazing is happening.

With their slogan, “make friends – make something in wood,” Swanwick Men’s Shed provides a safe, friendly place to meet and join in a variety of projects – from building garden benches, planters and obelisks to making picture and mirror frames and reviving old furniture.

And despite its location, the Men’s Shed is at the centre of the community. People venture up with donations of tools and wood, put in requests for things to be made and there are many links with others in the community like local schools and charities.

But,  what’s really clear here is the shed is providing a lifeline to local men (and women) who would otherwise be socially isolated or suffering with poor mental health. With the Government’s Loneliness Strategy stating lonely people were more likely to be admitted to hospital or have a longer stay, visit a GP or A&E, and enter local authority funded residential care, the opportunities provided by this small community group are huge.

Tackling social isolation

Charles Parkes helped to set up the Men’s Shed in 2017 through Valley CIDS and it’s since won regional and national awards. It’s aimed mainly at men but is open to both men and women over 18.

He explains: “The original idea was to deal with isolation for older males. A lot of men who’ve finished work for whatever reason – whether they’ve retired, been made redundant or finished due to ill health – don’t have the social network that their wives would probably have through schools, playgroups, WI and all sorts of things.

“We’ve had a few people move into the area and then become widowed so they’re in a new place with no social contact at all. They have found new friends and a family in the shed. They enjoy coming and helping out, making items for their grandchildren or cooking the sausages on a Saturday.

We get new members to buddy up with a shedder on a project. It is good to see them smiling and enjoying the banter. It’s something to do and keeps them physically fit and mentally active.”

Feeling valued

The shed is primarily a woodworking and hobby workshop but the value people take from it is hugely varied.

Charles said: “Some come to utilise their skills, some come with a particular purpose to make something, the majority come just to do something, whatever that is. I think the main thing is they can still be useful, by fetching and carrying and holding and screwing and helping someone who’s a bit more able.

“We have a lady who comes, she’s 75 and not really done anything practical all her life but she makes all the garden trellis and she’s really taken that on board. So she’s found new skills and she works in a team with one or two others. And she’s our sausage buyer as well so there’s all sorts of elements.

“We’ve got people who’ve got dementia, at various levels. Being at the shed provides a respite and free time for their carers.

“Dementia sufferers can have a short attention span so we have to find tasks they can manage. One shedder put together one of our bird box kits that we make for schools and conservation groups.  He presented it to his wife and that was a huge success for them as a couple. She’s got the nest box in the garden.”

Building family and support

The friendships formed through the Men’s Shed have spread far beyond the confines of the shed itself.

Charles explains: “We’ve found friendship, I think that’s the thing. We come to the farm, have a bit of banter, go and feed the animals, have a sausage cob, be useful.

“We support each other. We’ve got two or three at the moment who’ve got health problems within their family and we’re rallying around speaking and supporting each other. We closed over Christmas and we kept in contact with people who needed contact and help.

“I get a lot of satisfaction out of it in terms of what we’ve achieved. When you hear their stories it’s great to see the effects it’s had on other people being there.

“We’ve got people there who would relatively openly admit it’s saved their lives.”

How can you help Swanwick Men’s Shed?

There are lots of costs involved in running Swanwick Men’s Shed so they’re always on the lookout for donations of wood and tools. They are currently in desperate need of good quality timber to fulfill a request from a charity shop to make some gardening crates. If any local businesses are able to help, please contact Charles on charlieparkes@gmail.com.

For more information visit the website here

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