Age Scotland Development Officer, Linda Anderson sits on the steering group for South Lanarkshire Men’s Shed project and reports back on their latest project.
When a ruinous earthquake tore through the urban utopia of Christchurch, New Zealand in February 2011, it claimed 185 lives and decimated buildings and infrastructure.
The country’s deadliest peacetime disaster had followed another earthquake, which shook the ‘Garden City’ – renowned for its alpine ski slopes and wineries – six months previously.
Although the aftershocks have subsided the natural calamities have sparked one chain of events that has seen a former Christchurch resident re-settle in Scotland – and redouble his efforts to build community spirit.
Kiwi, David Searle moved to Hamilton last month with his Scots wife Mary, who’s originally from the town. He has just joined a group, made up of local volunteers, who are aiming to build a ‘Men’s Shed’ network in South Lanarkshire.
The Men’s Shed concept was first launched in Australia in the 1990s after it was recognised that there was little opportunity for men, especially older males, to forge new friendships.
The shed was recognised as a domain where the typical Aussie man would carry out tasks and hobbies, like restoring furniture, painting or fixing garden machinery. From there, local groups were established and the shed would be the hub where men would meet, socialise and exchange knowledge and skills.
Since then, Men’s Sheds have taken root with projects forming the world-over. In New Zealand, before the earthquakes, David created and developed a similar community project based on the Men’s Shed concept.
Now, as part of the nationwide Reshaping Care for Older People (RCOP) programme, Seniors Together, an organisation which aims to improve the quality of life for older people living in South Lanarkshire, have established the strategic level steering group of volunteers, which David has joined, to set up the initiative here. The project is being run in conjunction with Age Scotland.
A key aim of RCOP is to provide more help and support to enable growing numbers of older people to remain at home and feel involved in their community.
Men’s Shed embodies that principle and David has revealed that it’s a personal epiphany, realised in the aftermath of disaster 11,000 miles away, that is driving his bid to help in South Lanarkshire.
“My abiding memory straight after the first earthquake in September 2010 wasn’t the chaos or the fear you’d typically associate with a natural disaster.
“The quake came in the early hours and we ran outside our house. I’ll never forget the view of the stars that dark morning.
“All the electricity in the city was knocked out and there was no light pollution – you could see straight into the heavens.”
Despite there being no fatalities in the first quake, measuring 7.1 in magnitude (considered major), the second, half a year later and measuring 6.3, took a deadly toll. David and Mary’s house sustained only minor damage – but they underwent a seismic mindset shift.
“Like that view of the stars, my thought processes have never been clearer since the earthquakes,” David explained. “Ultimately people, including myself and my wife, came away seriously reviewing what we wanted out of life.
“The lasting impact has been; if you want to do something, do it now – and put your heart and soul into it.
“Men’s Shed is one of those things that is extremely important to me and doing what I can to make it a success here means a great deal to me.”
David, a radio amateur and electronics enthusiast set up his first community project, based on the Men’s Shed model, in Christchurch around seven years ago.
He explained: “In earlier times mechanics’ institutes or allotments, things I remembered from childhood, served a social bonding purpose for men but had largely fallen away.
“I’d had a successful career and wanted to give something back so I created a project based on the Men Shed model, coordinating 45 volunteers. We set up events where mostly retired men sat alongside young people and mentored them to build electronic and amateur radio projects.
“The project acted as an instant ice breaker between people who’d never met before. Crucially, they were linking back into, and strengthening, the community by sharing the skills they had. That is an immensely rewarding aspect for the people involved.”
The psychological aftermath of February 2011, however, prompted David’s departure from the projects he’d put his heart and soul into.
“Unlike a flood or fire, which you can often see coming, earthquakes come and hit everybody all at the same time without warning. You don’t know when the next one will strike and that has a tremendous psychological impact on people – trauma which is evident in Christchurch today.”
That emotional strain and uncertainty prompted David and his wife Mary to move to be with their son in Sydney, Australia a short time after the second earthquake.
Seeking a fresh start, the couple have settled into Mary’s hometown last month – with David being renewed in his convictions.
“One of the things that struck me after the earthquake was a lot of the places my wife and I had regularly visited, like coffee shops and nature walks, were out of bounds because of the damage to the city.
“An event like that leaves you feeling vulnerable, fragile and alone – compounded by the fact we didn’t have these social anchors, places where we met friends and stayed connected.
“It got me thinking, and reaffirmed my belief in just how important Men’s Shed actually is to those who face similar feelings in everyday life. Men’s Shed is also about giving people a chance to create and give back to the community, using skills that can make a real difference.
“Just having the chance to do that can make an enormous difference to those involved as well.”
David added: “When I heard of the bid to start a Men’s Shed network here I jumped at the chance to become involved.
“I want to harness the tumult of emotion the earthquakes brought out in me and channel that energy to help the group make Men’s Shed a success here.”
Join the Men’s Shed today
In South Lanarkshire, RCOP combines the expertise of third sector organisations with partner agencies including NHS Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire Councils and the independent sector.
Seniors Together, a RCOP partner, is a South Lanarkshire Council project run in association with NHS Lanarkshire.
Christine Calder, Seniors Together’s project manager, said: “The Men Shed movement is about keeping older men connected to the community.
“Overall, it’s great fun and can be hugely satisfying for those involved to be part of something and use skills they’ve developed over their lives. We’re looking to get projects running across the region, from Hamilton to Clydesdale, East Kilbride to Strathaven.
“Whether you’d like a part in shaping the network though joining the steering group or just want join a project, contact us today.”
For more information about this project, you can contact Christine on 01698 454104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more about Men’s Sheds in Scotland at www.agescotland.org.uk/mensshed