A network of communal men’s sheds that provide a place for men to meet and make things is springing up across the English-speaking world. Robert Blow visited the Big Lottery-funded Men in Sheds in Eltham, South London, and found a home from home
At Men in Sheds older men get together in fully equipped workshops to bang nails, plane wood, and drink tea. They also do a fair amount of talking.
The idea for Men in Sheds kicked off in Australia and has now become a worldwide phenomenon. It’s a place where older men come together to share skills and socialise in a friendly environment.
The Eltham Men in Sheds – one of the first in the country – is run by Wendy Smith, Pauline Cahill and Steve Paxman from charity Age UK Bromley & Greenwich. They told me that men – even when they feel lonely – struggle with the idea of joining a support group. Men in Sheds is perfect for them because it gives them the opportunity to do something and make a solid contribution, which men feel more comfortable with than sitting around and talking about their feelings.
If, however, someone needs to talk, Wendy, Pauline and Steve are there for them.
Caswell Pryce started coming to the Eltham shed in March, and already it feels like family to him. He comes to the shed two or three times a week to make picture frames among other things, but also to have a chat.
“I’m a former carpenter and joiner. I’ve worked for firms that when they take you on, you get a load on your shoulder. The work became very strenuous as the years went on. Eventually I ended up with a hernia on the last job that I was on, and it causes me a lot of problems.
“I couldn’t go to work as I wanted to, and that caused a depression. I started to slow down and then I went to the doctor. From there I had a lot of counselling. I had a 12-week course with Time to Talk*. I just wanted to get out of the darkness.
“At home I was thinking: ‘Where can I turn to?’The doctor recommended Men in Sheds. Whoever I spoke to – Time to Talk, Greenwich MIND – said ‘Men in Sheds’. The spirit in me said to me: ‘Let me phone Men in Sheds’. So eventually, last March, I did.
“When I phoned Men in Sheds a very pleasant man called Steve picked the phone up. I said to him: ‘I’m in this situation and maybe you’re able to help me.’
“Steve gave me a rundown of what Men in Sheds is all about and invited me to come down and see for myself. So I said OK.
“I came here two days later and as I walked in it was like when something falls in place. All the machinery, the workshop was just there. It was what I needed, I always wanted a workshop; it was my dream. I’m a practical person: I could see an image and make it. I always enjoy making things. As soon as I saw the workshop here, I thought: This is my home.”
Now Cas has been coming to Men in Sheds for several months, he can say: “This family has always got time for me.”
*Also funded by the Big Lottery Fund
Since the Big Lottery-funded Silver Line opened nearly a year ago, it’s proved a lifeline for thousands of older people who are lonely or distressed. Robert Blow spoke to Silver Line call advisers Alan Walsh and Alyson Lazell on why it’s great to talk
“When I get off the phone I feel like I belong to the human race.” The comment is typical of the thousands of people who’ve called The Silver Line since it opened on 25 November 2013.
“On the first day we received 2,000 calls. People were melting the phones trying to get through.” Alan Walsh and Alison Lazell are two of the helpline’s dedicated staff who have been there right from the start. “It was as if there was this tremendous need out there, and people just couldn’t get wait to get on the phone to us.”
The statistics about older people and loneliness are frightening. More than half of all 75 year olds in the UK live alone and one in ten suffers “intense” loneliness but is reluctant to ask for help. In a poll conducted to mark the launch of The Silver Line, nine out of ten older people told researchers that “a chat on the phone” is the most helpful solution when they feel lonely but one in four say they never or seldom have someone to chat to on the phone.
I asked Alan and Alyson what a typical shift on the Silver Line feels like.
“There’s not really an average day. You hear an incredible range of life experiences. One minute, you might be talking to Welsh hill farmer; the next to a 90 year old lady from Hackney. You hear about the life of someone’s who worked all round the world. They’ve rung you for help, but at the same time talking to them is an education in itself.
“You do hear sad stories: someone with MS who hasn’t been able to leave the house for 10 years; people who’ve been married for 60 years and just lost their partner. There was one caller who’d got himself a criminal record because he kept on ringing the emergency services; he was that desperate for someone to talk to.”
Like all the Silver Line staff and volunteers, Alan and Alyson have been professionally trained in handling calls of every kind. On rare occasions they may pick up the phone and talk to someone who feels suicidal. I asked what their approach would be.
“We try to act like a good friend. We ask open questions and we’re not judgmental. We don’t put pressure on people. Perhaps the person doesn’t really want to kill themselves; they just feel so lonely. You get an incredible feeling if you manage to turn round someone’s mood. They ring up feeling low and then you talk them through it and they end the call laughing and joking. It’s like shining a torch into the darkness. The light comes on; the mood lifts. It’s incredible to witness. ”
Alan and Alyson feel incredibly privileged to do this work, because often people will confide in them when they wouldn’t to their own family. “Sometimes the grief is too close to talk to your nearest and dearest. For example, there was a man who rang up whose wife was dying. He desperately needed comforting, but he couldn’t talk to his family because they were upset too and he felt he had to be brave for them.”
I ask what kind of person it takes to be a Silver Line call adviser. “You need good communication skills, listening skills, empathy. We talk to anybody about anything. Not all the calls are sad. Sometimes, you get to share nice things, like congratulating someone you’ve got to know on the phone who’s celebrating their 100th birthday.”
Silver Line advisers will offer a chat and sympathy if that’s all the caller wants. People often ring up just to say Good night. But they will also try to signpost someone who’s feeling lonely and isolated to somewhere where they can make friends, such as an Age UK lunch club. The Silver Line’s remit is as wide as the needs of older people, so people will ring up who need practical help but don’t know where to turn. Alan and Alyson have the knowledge and information at hand to direct someone to the right council service or government department.
Both Alan and Alyson obviously love their jobs. Working on the Silver Line might be an “emotional rollercoaster” but for them it offers satisfactions and compensations far from the draining routine of target-driven environments.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to work in a place where everyone is so committed. Most jobs are about money. But this is about having a conversation with a real person.”
The Silver Line is a free, 24 hour confidential helpline for older people, open all day, every day, offering information, friendship, advice, and protection from abuse and neglect.
Need help or just someone to chat to? You can call the Silver Line at any time on 0800 4 70 80 90.
In this, the next in the series of regular updates for would-be grant holders, Karen Addison from the Big Advice team shares her top tips for getting started on your search for funding…
I haven’t done this before, how do I get started?
This is one of our most popular questions! The best place to start is our website UK & England funding finder will identify the most appropriate grant for your group and provide an application form with guidance, to get you started.
We are not a charity does that mean we can’t apply for lottery funding?
You don’t have to be a registered charity to apply for funding. You do need to be set up as an organisation with social aims before you can apply. All your group needs is a committee (with at least three unrelated people), a governing document (such as a constitution), and a bank account (with two unrelated people who can sign for it).
I don’t know where to start! Which funding programme is the one for us?
If you have a project idea, the first question to consider is will it cost under or over £10,000? There are two ongoing funding streams that are open with no closing date:
- Awards for All England offers small grants of between £300 and £10,000 www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/global-content/programmes/england/awards-for-all-england
- Reaching Communities England offers larger grants to projects costing over £10,000. If you need funding for land or buildings projects costing over £100,000 look at the Reaching Communities buildings strand
What are outcomes?
Outcomes are how we need you to describe the changes that your project can make to the lives of the people who use it. Outcomes are not the activities or services that your project provides. You will need to use outcomes to tell us about the impact you will make with the funding if you are awarded it.
Is there any other help available?
The website and our online resources can help you understand the funding process and how to apply to it. Split into easy to access links they can help you plan a successful project and create a stronger application www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/funding/funding-guidance/applying-for-funding
Sign up for our England e-bulletin to keep up to date with Big Lottery Fund news and receive announcements of new funding opportunities on the website www.biglotteryfund.org.uk
Build-it gives young people the opportunity to learn construction skills from professional trade mentors, all working together to rebuild community spaces. Since Build-it launched in March 2013, over 700 young people have been supported through the programme working across 15 sites in Lambeth, south London. Head of Build-it James Alexander describes the difference it can make to the young people involved.
I first met Ralph at HMP Thameside where he was finishing a sentence for armed robbery. Ralph told us how he had learnt plastering while inside and was now ready to get some practical experience and make something of his life. Three days after his release, in November 2013, Ralph began work at a Build-it site at Brixton Green.
Ralph was part of a team turning an old ‘Meals on Wheels’ site into a community space. The conditions onsite were challenging and extremely cold, which led to poor morale and often a lack of mentors. Nevertheless Ralph was always on time.
I remember one particularly busy Thursday last December when a local company offered to send their staff down to help finish painting a building that we were refurbishing through Build-it. I was concerned whether we’d be able to manage the volunteers as one mentor had phoned in sick that day but Ralph came to me and said: “Don’t worry James, I’ve got this.” Ralph then went on to organise all 20 volunteers into various groups, giving each of them roles and responsibilities. The day, which could have been very tricky, was a resounding success, with all participants enjoying the experience and the work being completed!
It soon became clear that Ralph was a valuable mentor for many other young participants on Build-it. So in January 2014 Ralph became a paid mentor on the programme. This has come as a result of his commitment to the project and hard work ethic. He is a role model to others and a great example of what can be achieved through volunteering in your local community.
Not every young person will achieve this working on Build-it, but we hope that we will have helped them to prepare for the future. Whether that’s securing a job or moving back into education or just simply knowing more about what they want to do.
Build-it is run by London Youth, which has received £1.7 million from Big Lottery Fund.
In March 2013 Build-it featured in Channel 4’s The Secret Millions. You can watch it again on Channel 4, Tuesday 15 July at 02:05.
Weight related bullying plagued Callum throughout his school life, eventually bringing him to the brink of suicide. Now 17, Callum, from Wolverhampton helps others his age cope with similar problems.
My background all starts from when I was in primary school in year three. I wasn’t the slimmest of lads my age and a lot of my bullying in primary school was all to do with weight. But part of it was also to do with the fact that I couldn’t spell certain words or because I wouldn’t go and play with some of the kids.
A lot of the time teachers didn’t spot that I was being bullied. And, to be honest, I never felt that any teacher actually understood what I was going through.
When I got into high school I spent a lot of my time in my bedroom. I cut myself off. I got to a point where I was feeling really depressed and I just wanted to kill myself. My mum actually took away all my games consoles and the wires because of the thoughts I was having. It was quite tough at the time because I heard a lot of kids talk about the stuff they got to do at home and there was me just sitting there alone in my bedroom.
It carried on until I was in year eight and then I left the school I was in and the bullies and everyone else behind and went to a new school. I got bullied a lot there at the start. But after a while I just started to ignore it.
I went through counselling and it didn’t really help me at all, but peer support might have been a bit different. I might have got a group which would have been a lot more friendly.
Because of what happened to me I got involved in a peer support network. I just enjoy helping out young people who need it. I can give them advice about where they can go to get help and how they can be safe online with Facebook. I’ve helped someone get past a phobia of going out, which has given them more independence. With my support they can now go on the bus on their own and go to college and even out to meet friends. Before they wouldn’t go out to meet friends because they were scared of what might happen.
Projects like this are really important because a lot of kids need support. Peer support is great because you feel good about yourself when you help other people, so it’s really helping two people at the same time.
- HeadStart is funding 10 new mental health projects, each receiving £500,000 to help young people deal with life’s ups and downs.
- Peer support is just one of the services offered to young people through HeadStart
- If you are a young person experiencing problems like Callum’s you can get help from www.Mindfull.org
The National Lottery has launched Play makes it possible – linking playing the Lottery with the life-changing community projects supported by the Good Causes, including Big Lottery Fund.
One of the projects featured in the TV advert is Tenovus, the Wales-based cancer charity that aims to prevent, treat and find a cure for cancer. Tenovus have received £1 million from Big Lottery Fund to expand their Sing With Us choirs.
Jean Phillips is a member of the Bridgend Sing With Us choir along with her husband Huw, who has cancer. Jean recently wrote us the following letter.
I am the wife of a cancer sufferer and we are supported by Tenovus in so many ways. Huw is very poorly now but we are both members of one of their Sing With Us choirs – namely Bridgend. However, we have been associated and helped by them since Huw was invited to be a member of their “Big C Choir”.
I cannot even begin to tell you how helpful and supportive they have been. They have helped us to claim an attendance allowance successfully and their support line is always open to us. There have been times when I have felt completely alone in trying to help Huw with the pain and other side effects of his advanced prostate cancer – we try to be completely independent – however their helpline has helped me enormously to aid Huw on those occasions.
However, the biggest support for both of us is being members of Tenovus Sing With Us Bridgend Choir. It is one of the 16 choirs they now run and it is like a second family to all of us who belong to it. Like many others, there have been times when Huw has been too ill to go to rehearsal. Or perhaps he has gone but been a bit poorly whilst there. Or perhaps it has been me who has broken down whilst there….music is very emotional but healing nevertheless.
Members are all in similar situations, or grieving still, and they all rally round at those times. Being in this choir has also led to deeper friendships among members, including ourselves, which is the finest support anyone can have. It would not have happened without Tenovus Sing With Us choirs. We have coffee mornings, car treasure hunts, lunches, raffles to help with travel costs for gigs and an upcoming 1st anniversary dinner.
The amount of good the Lottery money has done is indefinable in this instance. Support for each other cannot be quantified in terms of money or numbers and nor can the extremely strong “feel-good factor” which comes with the singing we so love. Tenovus chooses the songs particularly suited to our situations and their specially commissioned “Sing For Life” (written for them by singer-songwriter Cat Southall) is just so apt that it has brought many in the audiences to tears.
I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being the ‘cause’ and allowing this to happen. We have made so many good friends through it all and that includes many of the marvellous Tenovus staff. They do so much for us and very often in their own time, not in working hours. Tenovus could not have used your money more wisely!