20th Anniversary Somerset Stories: Axe Valley Men’s Shed

Axe Valley Men’s Shed is one of the most recent Men’s Shed to have received funding from us. We’ve supported the group with over £12,000 in grants since they first applied for money in 2020.

The Shed provides a safe place for men to come and undertake activities that help improve mental health and wellbeing, reducing social isolation and providing the places and spaces for people to get together and take part in projects that benefit local people and community.

We spoke to Andy Laken, Chairman of Axe Valley Men’s Shed who told us more about their work and how, for some, a few hours a week of connection and community can mean the world.

“We support men of all ages – 18 to 118. We’re 50 members strong and we do lots of things and activities. Men’s Sheds are a proven need in the community, especially for men who’ve become socially isolated. They may have become ill, retired, or bereaved – and for a lot of chaps those changes can turn their lives upside down, and their purpose for living disappears. So, the way to replace work or fill that gap is with a club – or a Men’s Shed.

The funding we’ve received from Somerset Community Foundation has supported a few of our projects now, and we’re currently using the money from our most recent grant to start an orchard. We’re renting some land off the council and planting fruit trees, putting in raised beds, and erecting a fruit cage to protect the tender fruits – and because the land backs onto the local cemetery we’re planning a garden of contemplation or sensory garden, too. And following a survey, we’re going to bore down into the ground and hopefully we’ll be able to source fresh water which will be accessed via a solar pump, meaning we’ll have free water for the gardens forever!

We pass on knowledge and skills at The Men’s Shed. We’ve got a new art class and we’ve started doing archery now, which is also new. And we’re currently working towards starting up a computer and mobile phone club – problem is we don’t have broadband yet, but we’re looking into it! We do music, art – whatever gives people a sense of purpose, and a reason to return every week. We meet men who’ve lost their sense of purpose and self-worth all the time; and we’re here to help them get that back. The younger men tend to come here to learn new skills, too – but the over-arching thing is that we’re here for men’s mental health.

We had a chap called Gerry* who started coming to the shed. He was in his 70s and retired, and was a full-time carer at home for his wife who had health issues, and his mother-in-law who was in her 90s and also lived with them. When he first came to the shed he was lost and lonely. He didn’t speak very much, but that was fine. He had somewhere to come and just be. We’d put the kettle on, crack open the biscuits and he knew we were here if he needed us. No pressure, just somewhere to come for a bit of time out.

When we hadn’t seen Gerry for a few weeks we started to get concerned. We rang around and finally found out he’d been in hospital for open heart surgery. He told us that before his heart attack, he’d been feeling suicidal and the Men’s Shed had given him the bright spark he’d needed to carry on. The four hours a week Gerry spent at the Men’s Shed was the only time in the week he had to himself, away from his caring responsibilities. And those four hours a week had saved his life.”

31 October 2022

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual

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