Men's Sheds: Easing isolation and loneliness in Wales

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Media captionThe Den in Rhiwbina has about 12 members on its books

For generations, a shed has been known as a man's haven - a place where he can escape to mend, fix and tinker with things.

Now, it is at the heart of an organisation in Wales hoping to prevent isolation and loneliness among men.

Tucked away from the main road in Rhiwbina, Cardiff, is a small, plain concrete building.

While it might look insignificant to anyone passing by, for the 12 members of The Den it is a welcome space.

Inside, I find five of them chatting away over a cup of tea and coffee - planks of wood, gardening gloves, tools and benches fill the room.

They meet in this shed - technically a garage temporarily lent to them by the local church - every Thursday afternoon.

Mike Wright, 68, from Thornhill, started The Den with co-founder Gareth Powell along with support from Men's Sheds Cymru.

"We were looking for something that would help address the problem of isolation in the community amongst men," Mr Wright explained.

"What we found was that women don't seem to have such a problem getting to know each other and communicating, but men tend to have more difficulty.

"We looked for something that would help that, and we turned to this model.

"The main idea is for men who have perhaps just retired, are bereaved, that sort of thing, we are hoping to attract those."

Mr Powell - the self-appointed "youngster" of the group at the age of 49 - said it was about "coming together, having a laugh and achieving things".

The Den is one of three Men's Sheds in Cardiff and one of 20 in Wales.

Image copyright The Den
Image caption The group get stuck in building a gambo

While some of the men were handy at wood work, having fixed and replaced a leaky roof, others were outside in the neighbouring community garden digging up an old tree root.

They have been tending to the garden, refurbishing furniture and are set to restore the pews at the church.

The Den has also acquired a plot at Birchgrove Allotment where they meet every Tuesday.

But their proudest achievement to date has been building their own gambo - a wooden racing cart - which recently won them "highly commended" at the Men's Shed EiSHEDfod at the National Museum Cardiff.

Mr Wright said the gambo helped them to "remember their youth".

Image copyright Thinkstock

What are Men's Sheds?

  • They are social groups or enterprises set up in communities for the benefit of men
  • The idea originated in Australia 11 years ago and was developed by the health board to tackle growing concerns of social isolation among the country's male population
  • It soon spread - there are now more than 200 in Ireland and others in New Zealand, Canada, Denmark and the UK
  • The activities that take place in the sheds - from wood work and gardening to model making and art - depend on the interests and skills of the group

Alan Fleet, 73, from Radyr, said The Den has helped him to get out of the house and meet other people while John Gravelle, 66, said it had been "a wonderful way" to get involved in the community.

Mr Gravelle, who moved back to Cardiff a year ago, added: "You can sit down, do a bit of work, of painting and then have a long cup of tea and discuss the world. It's been a very good way of getting back into Wales after being away for such a long time."

The Den is currently looking for new permanent accommodation in north Cardiff and the group are also seeking new members to join them.

Older People's Commissioner for Wales, Sarah Rochira, said she has seen "first-hand the fantastic work they do to help older men".

"Men's Sheds are hugely important, particularly as there have traditionally been few activity or support groups aimed specifically at older men," she said.

"I hope that the Men's Sheds movement continues to grow and reach out to communities across Wales so that even more older men can get involved and enjoy the benefits that being a member can bring."

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