Men will be boys . . . in a shed

There is something about a shed. It’s a male thing; a place where you can potter and, above all, spend time. Barry Hook met up with Karyn Johnston of Age UK Cheshire East to find out about a special shed sanctuary where men can enjoy a hobby or simply put the world to rights.

Chris Allen

George Bernard Shaw worked in one and so did Roald Dahl. A shed is a retreat; tidy to a degree if you ignore the woodshavings curled-up on the floor under the vice. It’s a sanctuary where rows of old jam jars contain screws and nails (they’ll come in useful one day) and old tobacco tins house an assortment of washers and grommets salvaged from a now defunct lawnmower . . . or was it from an old washing machine?

It matters not. The tins are all neatly stacked and even though they are not labelled, the man in the shed knows exactly what is in each. Heaven.

“Back in 2009, Age UK Cheshire East spotted that men were absent from our wide range of physical, creative and social activities,” says Karyn Johnston. “We set out to develop a strategy to reconnect men in later life.“

The result was the launch of Men in Sheds; a project that uses the premise of ‘a shed as sanctuary’ to good advantage.

“The idea is to bring together socially isolated, financially and/or physically disadvantaged older men with time on their hands.”

It’s not really a shed but a fully-equipped wood and metal working workshop built within Age UK Cheshire East’s Health & Wellbeing Centre in Macclesfield. With the support of a project co-ordinator and a team of 10 volunteers, those involved with the project are able to swap skills and information, form friendships and create a mutually supportive network of buddies.

After 2-years its impact cannot be underestimated maintains Karyn and introduces me to Chris Allen of Hazel Grove. For 30-years he had been taking anti-depressants. After a spell in hospital he spotted a notice about Men in Sheds.

He visited the centre , had a look around, and knocked-up a bird box. The next thing he knew he was being asked if he would like to be a volunteer.  He is no longer on anti-depressants.

Chris recalls how he worked with a chap with Parkinson’s, then helped someone who had had a stroke who was very depressed, very quiet and could only use one hand.

“I made a clamp on the bench at an angle in a comfortable position for his hand so he could start to do more on his own. The guy changed dramatically – after a fortnight he brought his wife in who was over the moon because he had changed so much.

“I didn’t used to mix with people myself but at the Shed, the craic is brilliant.  You can come to make something or just have a brew and banter – it doesn’t matter who you are. We’re all winners here.”

Many of the ‘shedders’ have taken-up the other activities such as computer classes, gentle exercise and even taken advantage of free counselling to help them work through some significant life changes.

The target now is to build on this success and open similar venues in other towns across Cheshire East.

The Shed, on the corner ofCrossall StreetandElizabeth Street, Macclesfield is open for visitors from 10am until 4pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and between 1pm and 4pm on Thursday and Friday afternoons.

“Men from anywhere across Cheshire East can use the Shed. We are particularly keen to attract men from the more isolated villages on our patch,” said Karyn.

“Each week, each of the 6 sessions accommodates up to 12 men with around 5 volunteers per session, but we can open additional sessions if numbers warrant it.”  The charge is £3 per session to cover unlimited tea, coffee and biscuits  . . . and where you can shed inhibitions.

For more information contact Age UK Cheshire East on 01625 612958 or visit

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