Loughries Men’s Shed is going from strength to strength thanks to a £4,650 grant from the Housing Executive.
The cash injection meant that the fledgling organisation were able to buy a shed and build a patio and disability pathway, getting them off to a flying start.
In just over a year, the group has prepared and planted out land at Newtownards Allotments on the shores of Strangford Lough, with Scrabo Tower in the distance.
One of the founder members Mark Anderson said: “This is our first planting season. We are delighted but at the same time impatient for things to start growing. It was hard work but enjoyable, something different and new for us all to get involved with.”
The group have 16 to 20 members who come along once a week and up to 15 more who drop in occasionally. Men come together, socialise, share ideas, have a cup of tea, learn new skills and chat about the things that matter to them.
“So far, we’ve put in a couple of apple trees, raspberries, rhubarb and planted seeds for cabbage, carrots, potatoes and broccoli,” Mark continued.
“I think we’ve all learned something new. I couldn’t put a screw in the wall before but now I’m making bird boxes and bird feeders.
“We’ve worked hard and everyone has chipped in with things like putting up fences, laying the foundation for the shed, planting and so on.
“We were struggling a bit with planting as we don’t really know what we are doing but one of our allotment neighbours comes over and gives us tips.”
Men’s Sheds are community spaces springing up all over Northern Ireland for men to get together, talk and create, and share their skills with each other, helping them build friendships and reducing isolation.
The Ards venture started with a zoom meeting during lockdown in February 2021, when a group of local men realised that the mental health and general wellbeing of friends, family and members of the community were deteriorating.
“We got in touch with Gus Moore, Good Relations Officer at the Housing Executive, who organised most of our funding. That money installed the infrastructure for us and got the whole project off the ground,” Mark explained.
“It was important to get the disability pathway as a lot of our members have bad knees and arthritis. We’re building raised beds, too, so they are more suitable for people with physical restrictions.
“One man who’d had three strokes when he was 56 came along and started using a hammer and nails, which he couldn’t do before. Men with heart conditions and cancer, and others with no health issues come along. It has definitely helped with levels of depression and anxiety,” he said.
The Shedders treasurer, Stephen Rodgers, is an engineer and he mapped out the plot and designed it. “We’ve had some smaller supporters too and we are very grateful to them all,” said Mark.
Working in partnership with the Housing Executive, the Shedders are planning further outreach into the local community, particularly with residents in the main five social housing areas in the town as well as day centres, youth groups and schools.
There are also plans for a range of activities, events and classes such as a landscape water colour session.
Mark added: “In a very short space of time this project has played a significant and positive role in everyday life here by bringing people together and improving their general health and wellbeing. The men have a renewed sense of pride and confidence in themselves and the wider community has a brilliant new facility to enjoy.”
Housing Executive area manager Owen Brady said: “Our grants mean residents and community groups can apply for funding for projects that will benefit Housing Executive communities.
“We are delighted that this grant has led to such a positive outcome for the people of Ards, which will continue to provide a fantastic facility for locals.
“The Men’s Shed dovetails perfectly with our aims of improving health and wellbeing and caring for the environment.
“Congratulations and well done to everyone who has made this project such a great success and we wish you all the best for the future.”