South Lanarkshire Men’s Shed project’s poignant link to disaster-stricken Garden City

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.

Aftermath  2The 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.

Aftermath 3Although 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.

David Searle 1“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

Read more about Men’s Sheds in Scotland at




Time for reshaping care to shape up

In the light of a report, published today, on Government plans to shift older people’s health and social care more from hospitals into communities, Age Scotland Chief Executive Brian Sloan addresses the challenges and likely solutions.

Photographer: Claudia Janke

Our ageing population is a consequence of success. We have a national ambition that people should lead longer, healthier lives, so we should first and foremost celebrate that we are achieving this. Many people still have fulfilling, rewarding and healthy lives into their 70s, 80s and beyond.

It’s also a myth that most older people need expensive care; in fact, the reverse is true: most older people do not. Only 9 per cent of over-65s are in long-term residential care or receive formal care at home; even among over-85s, this figure rises to just over a third (although many more people receive informal support from relatives).

Nonetheless, our changing demographics will have profound consequences. The ways in which our society pays for retirement, and the houses in which older people live, will have to adapt. Similarly, we cannot assume that traditional models of planning and delivering health and social care will continue to work. That’s what the Reshaping Care for Older People programme is supposed to be about. It aims to shift the balance of care, with more support delivered in homes and in communities than in hospitals. If we do this, we will also make it more likely that older people will remain physically active and socially connected, and achieve better health outcomes. We will also save public money, as resources can be diverted from expensive and reactive hospital treatment to more proactive and cost-effective care within communities.

The ambition is easy to state, but complex to achieve. NHS boards, local authorities and health and social care partnerships need to develop and implement change, at the same time as meeting current demands. It is always challenging to make direct links between preventative support and savings, many of which will not be seen until much later. The health service and councils currently work to different aims and standards; greater integration should help here, but there still needs to be a profound shift in culture, and a relentless focus on older people’s rights and better outcomes over the mechanics of getting things done.

Today, the public scrutiny body Audit Scotland has published a report which shows how much more needs to be achieved.

  • Because real change will involve many different people and organisations, there needs to be a firm commitment and strong leadership, both nationally and locally, to drive progress. The NHS and local councils need to develop strategic plans which promote consistency and reduce unnecessary variation.
  • We need to be more open to innovative and collaborative solutions: GPs should be more open to social prescribing or community referrals; care managers and care providers need to think about creative ways to address and manage the social effects of long-term health conditions; there should be an established process to decide whether someone really needs to be admitted to hospital or if community or home-based support can be arranged.
  • The report also notes that, although there are examples of good practice in linking up care and treatment towards more preventative and anticipatory approaches, there is no nationwide monitoring system to track progress or help to determine what is working and could be scaled-up and extended. The Scottish Government has invested £300 million over four years through the Change Fund to help push this, which has made different organisations develop some joint objectives, but investment decisions seem unsystematic and disconnected and projects are often not evidence-based. A central focus on the outcomes achieved locally would be a vital step, especially as joint strategic commissioning plans are being developed locally over the next year.

The reshaping care programme is intended to last until 2021, so there is time to reflect on the work, much of it good, which has already been done. But a protracted, piecemeal approach won’t work for such a mammoth change, on which so many of the older people of tomorrow will depend.

Art scheme aims to draw older people out of isolation

Talented Iain Johnston (73) has spent a lifetime at the easel.  His work, which ranges from depictions of the American Civil war to comic book illustrations, has been published in a wide range of magazines – including many science fiction and UFO journals over the decades.

Outreach Artist Iain Johnston

Outreach Artist Iain Johnston is set to use the power of painting to help older people beat isolation.

But now the down-to-earth grandfather-of-six is joining the effort to help meet the challenges of an ageing population – at grass roots level. He’ll be the front man of a pilot outreach art scheme, which will initially run in Airdrie from the autumn.

Although it’s open to all over 65s in the area, a key aim is to involve older people who are at risk of becoming cut off from their community.

Iain is set to teach and encourage his trademark form of expressive painting. But he has the bigger picture in mind.

“I’ve been drawing since childhood after taking inspiration my Uncle William (Johnston), a newspaper cartoonist whose work appeared under the pen name Carmichael in the 1940 and 50s.

“Like him, I really encourage expression, but it’s not just about drawing and painting,” said Iain. “This is about bringing people together and art really is the glue that bonds them.”

Iain worked as a studio assistant at Bradford Art College in the 90s before returning home to Airdrie and plying his creative trade on a freelance basis.

VoEF discovered Iain’s talents after he’d participated in an innovative arts project “We’ve Come Along Way”  (which was part funded by Age Scotland and North Lanarkshire Council)  earlier this year. Developed by the  Voice of Experience Forum (VoEF), an independent organisation working throughout North Lanarkshire, the project aimed to involve older isolated people in art classes. These used a variety of painting and drawing styles, using a different materials and involving a number of different themes including “ aging in a positive context”, “challenging aging stereotypes”, “social inclusion of older people” and “contribution of older people to community and society”.

A key aim of  Reshaping Care for Older People (RCOP) is to provide more help and support to enable the growing numbers of older people to remain at home and feel involved in their community.

Older people themselves are also key to the collaborative approach and ever-dynamic Iain is only too happy lend his help. Iain, who is also a current member of Paisley-based writer’s group Men with Pens, added: “I can read a story and illustrate it so I’ll be encouraging that free association in the group.

“Projects like this act as an instant ice breaker between people who’ve never met before. They can also go a long way to beating the isolation trap many older people can find themselves in when loved ones pass away and circumstances change.”

Sandra Renicks of VoEF explained that Iain’s art classes will start with ten taster sessions at various community groups that already meet throughout the Airdrie area. Older people in the area, especially those living alone, are encouraged to visit.

The hope is to roll out the pilot scheme throughout North Lanarkshire – because Sandra has also witnessed the power of painting first hand.

“This project comes after a similar scheme earlier this year run by North Lanarkshire Council, in conjunction with ourselves, called Come a Long Way,” she explained.

“The project encouraged older people to paint significant events and people in their lives. It wasn’t just an emotional release but we found those involved would share their memories during the process – creating instant bonds with each other.

“Painting is a fantastic way of uniting people. That’s key to helping older people who may be living alone reconnect with those around them.”

Sandra Mackay, Programme Manager for RCOP in North Lanarkshire said: “A key aim of the RCOP programme is to strengthen local communities and this project is an excellent example of that process in action.”

For more information on the art programme contact VoEF on 01236 758855 or email