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Former truck driver delivers Swansea's newest Men's Shed

Peter Harris outside the new shed

Peter Harris is no stranger to solitude - having spent his working life hauling loads as a lorry driver up and down the country - but on retirement he is heading in a different direction.

The 75-year-old  (pictured above) is the driving force behind Swansea’s newest Men’s Shed – a health and well-being movement aimed at alleviating loneliness that has travelled around the world since its inception in Australia in the 1980s.

Called ‘The Shed at the Pavilion’, and based in Birchgrove, the venue hosts a weekly meeting for men and women (usually in their 50s and over) to enjoy woodwork and crafts or just have a cup of tea and a chat.   

It is hoped meetings can increase to three times a week, with organisers actively looking to recruit new members.

Peter said: “A Men’s Shed is an organisation which started in Australia back in the mid-90s. It’s gone all over the world. 

“They were originally set up to combat loneliness and aid mental health problems in people of a certain age – men and women – who have retired or are unemployed and haven’t got a focus in life.

“The plan has been in my mind for about five years and then I retired from being a truck driver a couple of years ago and thought, this is what I want to do.

“I built myself a shed in my back garden, and filled it up with tools. Of course, being a truck driver you are on your own all day – but after six months of being on my own all day in the shed I thought, ‘I want more than this.’

“So then the Men’s Shed started to come to fruition. I joined Men’s Shed Cymru, which is the organisation for Men’s Sheds in Wales, and got a lot of input from them.”

The first step was to find suitable premises.

Shed members

(Pictured, members left to right: back row Peter Harris, Graham Abbott, councillor Ryland Doyle, Peter Quirolo.
Front Row.  Pat Farnworth, Gillian Andrew's, Lydia Harris)

Peter said: “We were looking for a Men’s Shed in the Llansamlet area – there’s nothing on the east side of Swansea -  and councillors Alyson Anthony and Matthew Jones said that the former OAP pavilion in Birchgrove was empty, do you want to have a look at it?”

It proved to be perfect, if in need of fixing up.

Peter said: “We signed the lease  in February but it needed fixing up first. We have been busy painting but we desperately need the services of an electrician.”

The other current item on the wish list is new members, male or female.

Peter said: “We only meet on Tuesdays (from noon to 3 or 4 o’clock) at this moment in time but we’re planning to do at least three days a week. 

“We’ve got a membership of around 25 to 30 at the moment, with just as many men as women. Predominantly, they’re 50 plus and I think the oldest member is 84. 

“Because a lot of our members are ladies, instead of calling it the Men’s Shed, we’ve just called it The Shed at the Pavilion.

“We want people to come and join us and do what they want to do - it’s better than sitting down watching television all afternoon.”

Men’s Sheds are just as much about socialising as making things.

Peter said: “We wanted to create something that everybody can have an interest in.

“What we’ve done is to say, ‘anybody who wants to come here – it’s not only woodworking and that sort of thing. All are welcome. 

“We always say, a Men’s Shed is a place where you have friends who you are yet to meet. I think that is so important. We are looking for new members, being an embryonic organisation, so we need people to come and say hello.

“We encourage people of all ages to join with us and it is great if you have a talent or skill to share with others that would be beneficial to other members who are looking for new skills.

“Any ideas or activities people would like to see, and are not available in the area, are also welcome.

“Every member is important to us and we would encourage them to come and see us, and have a cup of tea and a chat.”

Pat Farnworth  One person to take the step of joining is Pat Farnworth (pictured) – and she hasn’t looked back.

She said: “I lost my husband six years ago. I never went out after that. I lost my confidence, I would say.

“I saw this advertised and I still didn’t do anything. 

“And then my daughter said to me, ‘Mam, it’s time you started going out. Go and sign up.’

“I did. I’ve never looked back. t’s friendly. Everybody makes you feel welcome. I’ve made some new friends. And that’s what I needed. 

“I would say to anyone who is thinking of joining, come and join us. We’re a friendly group. We talk about loads of different things. No religion. No politics. So no hassle there.”

Another member is Ryland Doyle.

He said: “I think the idea behind Men’s Sheds is great. There are clearly issues with men’s mental health that don’t get talked about – and if this can be a facility where people can come and meet and chat and have a cup of tea, it will hopefully help people avoid some of the more serious things that happen.

“It’s not just for men. Sometimes there are more women here than men.
And that’s the way it should be. It’s open to anybody and everybody.”

Mike Garner, Cwmtawe Local Cluster Collaborative Lead, welcomed the new Men’s Shed following a similar venture  in Clydach a few years ago.

He said: “The Men’s Shed initiative has proven itself to be a brilliant way to bring menand women together, providing opportunities to talk, share interests and develop friendships.

“In today’s world, social isolation continues to be a huge problem and we should not underestimate the importance of feeling connected, having a purpose and a sense of belonging. 

“I am delighted to hear that this movement is expanding to other areas across the cluster footprint and I fully support Peter with the Men’s Shed in Birchgrove.

“If someone wants to join they can go to our Facebook page, Llansamlet Men’s Shed, or they can give me a call on 07305636801.”

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