Shed talk opens doors for Edinburgh male retirees

Men's Sheds offer a chance to learn new skills, such as woodwork.
Men's Sheds offer a chance to learn new skills, such as woodwork.
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An Australian idea to give older men space to socialise has taken root in Craigmillar and Corstorphine.

Who knew men could talk so much. Corstorphine Community Hub on a Monday afternoon is certainly buzzing with the chatter of the Men’s Shed group as they settle in for a couple of hours of archery, coffee, cake and conversation.

It's also a chance to socialise and meet new people. Picture: Emma Mitchell

It's also a chance to socialise and meet new people. Picture: Emma Mitchell

Since it started nearly two years ago, the shed has gained momentum. Space is limited in the group’s temporary home – they have been using the Hub while funds are raised to rebuild Corstorphine Youth & Community Centre which was damaged by fire in 2013 – but the ten regulars are keen to keep on growing the group.

Most are retired and looking for an excuse to get out the house. As one of the group jokes, coming along to the Men’s Shed “saves 
you lifting your legs up for the Hoover”.

“We have a good time and a good bit of crack,” says Scott Smith, who has been coming to Corstorphine Men’s Shed since day one.

“We are all from a different background. We have engineers, a personnel manager, we have got a software guy, a joiner.

Retirement used to be a death sentence. Now there’s no limit to what you can do.

“It’s community and companionship. You can learn something new if you like. It’s integrating with other people rather than being on your own most of the time. We will do an activity for a while and then sit and have a coffee and a blether.”

Men’s Sheds are an Australian export which have been in existence Down Under since the 1990s.

The idea has been slower to catch on in the UK but according to a 2015 report Learning about Community Capacity Building from the Spread of Men’s Sheds in Scotland by MD Consulting, there are a possible 49 such groups active in Scotland, 42 of which are confirmed.

Many were set up to give older men a place to go to socialise, learn new skills and revive old ones, but some are open to men of all ages and from all walks of life. “I think the idea is that the Men’s Shed starts at 50 but if there’s other people who would benefit then we are quite happy to welcome them,” says Smith.

“We do mix with other parts of the community centre. Some of us volunteer in the shop and there’s various fundraising things that we get involved in like Corstorphine Fair.

“We have been asked by the Leonard Cheshire Foundation if we will assist them in building flat-pack furniture and building a shed for them. That’s the kind of thing we wouldn’t mind getting involved in.

“We have toyed with the idea of building planters so that we can raise money – grant money is getting tight these days.”

Bill Watson is another regular at Corstorphine Men’s Shed. A former joiner, he’s turned one of the downstairs rooms at the Hub into a workshop which he uses to build furniture – the current project is an American-inspired Adirondack chair.

“I come in through the week to work on my side projects but on Mondays we all do things together,” Watson explains.

“It doesn’t matter what you want to do. The archery is quite popular and we have indoor curling and indoor bowling.

“It’s a community thing. Edinburgh is a massive place and this is a positive thing for the community.

“Retirement used to be a death sentence. Now there’s no limit to what you can do – there’s so many things you can take up.”

Social care charity Carr Gomm was the driving force behind setting up Craigmillar Men’s Shed in January 2015 after funding was secured for the group.

Like Corstorphine, Craigmillar Men’s Shed has ten core members with a handful more who drop in occasionally.

“We found that men in the area were very socially isolated and there wasn’t a lot for them to do,” says Scott McNair, community projects manager at Carr Gomm, who was involved in setting up the shed.

“One of our struggles was to get a unit so we meet in gardens and different places. We have just managed to get access to a facility where we can make tea and coffee and we have got a workshop.”

On a Tuesday the men meet to work on projects such as reclaiming cobbles which will be used in a community garden and building planters for local schools.

The meetings are also a chance to plan weekly walks around Edinburgh which aim to improve the fitness of the members.

McNair says: “The main purpose of the project was to reduce social isolation and improve mental health.

“We wanted to create a stronger sense of community connection because a lot of men told us they didn’t really feel connected to their communities. They just wanted to come and have a blether. We have got men ranging from about 30 to about 65-70.

“There’s a chap here who is less able to get involved with more physical stuff so he will help with making the tea and coffee and directing things. Everybody gets involved.”

Woodwork projects have become Craigmillar Men’s Shed’s speciality and one of the members has been passing on his joinery skills to others so everyone can help.

“They have gone from making bird boxes to making raised beds for the local school and gardens,” McNair says.

“We have had a lot of feedback and it’s all very positive. There’s one person who was a very heavy smoker and he says that coming along to the group has stopped him smoking as much.

“There was one older man who at first wouldn’t get involved, he just came and watched but after about a year he is now getting involved. It gets him out of the house and meeting people. Apparently he had not been out the house for about two years and now he’s a regular.”

The key to success in Men’s Sheds is ensuring the activities on offer are chosen by the members for the members.

“In the initial stages it was driven by one of my colleagues and myself but as time went on the men have started saying what they want to do,” says McNair.

This article appears in the winter issue of EH50, the Edinburgh Evening News magazine for the over 50s in the Capital. Read the full e-mag here.