It’s more than just pottering about in sheds

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Sitting in the middle of a 19th century fort, around a dozen pensioners sit discussing their plans.

As the all-male members of the Gosport Shed Project work through their morning agenda, they look as though they are holding a meeting at a busy local company.

hands on Bill Willetts and Henry Bartholomew. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (14286-1)

hands on Bill Willetts and Henry Bartholomew. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (14286-1)

And don’t be fooled by the name – this is more than just shed-talk. From a strong debate over the merits of outside work, to talking about who is leading certain schemes, the discussion is forthright but cordial.

The group, housed in two casemates at English Heritage’s Fort Brockhurst, in Gosport, is tackling social isolation in the town.

It has now developed from just an idea to 20 members.

And it couldn’t come at a better time, with Hampshire County Council forecasting an increase in people aged over 65 in Gosport, compared to people of a working age.

The authority says there will be 39 over-65s to every 100 people of working age in the borough by 2018.

Founder Martin Corrick, 69, set about building the group after suffering from depression when he left work.

A core part of it is using shared skills to keep busy.

Even setting up helped this as Martin and his then-fledgling committee visited 26 sites before landing a space at Fort Brockhurst.

Martin, who started the group at a public meeting attended by councillors and Gosport’s MP in May last year, says: ‘We trudged round in the rain and looked at lots of things. Some of them were deserted buildings.

‘A lot of them got crossed off the list, and at some the rent was too much. Then we were in here for an open day and got chatting to the curator.

‘It was all full of muck and rubbish, but we cleared it all out.’

Pam Braddock, of English Heritage, agreed they could move in on a temporary basis.

And since then members of the group have put their practical skills to use, setting up a full workshop with lathes and other equipment in one of the casemates.

A kitchen, library, social room and toilets are all being worked on by different teams.

Martin added: ‘We came in and looked around thinking “God, what do we do now?”

‘We hadn’t any money at all so we started looking at raising money.

‘Now we’ve got people from all over the place. Some of our guys were feeling lonely or depressed and in need of somewhere. Others wanted a workshop. We’ve got the space to do things people can’t do in their homes.

‘We’ve got a space big enough to get a little boat in.

‘But I haven’t had a chance to pursue anything like that – I’m too busy with this lot.’

The project has quickly outgrown its name – the group is working on artefacts for the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport and it runs day trips to local attractions. Of course, the highly autonomous group even has its own driver.

Martin adds: ‘I’m delighted it’s working out this way.

‘We’ve had wonderful support from all our guys. Everyone’s working away. People are busy and happy.

‘I was a retired person – now I’ve got a job again.’

And others are seeing the benefit too as HMS Sultan has donated £500, while the Southern Co-operative has handed over £2,000.

It means people like Roy Sparshott, of Exmouth Road, in Elson, have somewhere to go.

The workshop boss visits Fort Brockhurst four times a week.

The 69-year-old retired engineer said: ‘I’ve never joined a club in my life, I’m pretty much introverted.

‘If I wasn’t here, I’d probably be getting bored at home and going out with my wife every day, which obviously I don’t mind.

‘But it’s the winter months you do find a bit stressful.’

And people are flocking to join Roy.

He added: ‘I really never thought people would be that interested. Six months ago we had about four or five people.

‘Now the most we’ve had is about 25. Membership really is increasing week by week.’

And Roy says it benefits his mental wellbeing.

Research by Age UK shows social isolation can affect health and quality of life, with drinking problems, smoking and over-eating all connected to them.

Importantly here, the group is for men aged over 55 – meaning it is unashamedly not aimed at women.

Doctor Bill Cutter, a consultant in older people’s mental health at Southern Health NHS, visited the shed.

He said: ‘I was absolutely blown away by it. It was a fantastic thing.

‘There are quite a lot of equivalent things for retired women. They are reasonably well served with various groups, lunch clubs, knitting circles, that sort of thing.

‘But for retired men, there is very little. It is filling an important, difficult gap.

‘Being in contact with others means in general you’re going to have better mental health.’

Dr Cutter says the project can help prevent conditions and help people’s recovery from depression or mild memory problems – and is keen to recommend it to patients. But he, like Martin, is quick to point out it is not a support group.

The shed has also won praise from local GPs.

Membership of the group costs just £25 – and those who can’t afford to don’t have to pay. Contact Martin on gosportshed@gmail.com, or by calling him on 07889 762425.

KEEPING FIT

AFTER hearing about the shed project while at church, Gaynam Lock was keen to join.

And now the 67-year-old former environmental health officer is cycling from Land’s End to John o’ Groats to raise awareness of the project.

He said: ‘It’s brilliant, I see it more of a university than a shed.

‘We don’t all agree about everything of course.

‘In the last year Martin has done a huge job of setting up.

‘But as I see it this year it’s time to start being active.

‘I want to concentrate on the health benefits of being here.

‘That is really why I’m bringing the bike ride into it. Just by coming here – I’ve cycled in from Lee and I cycle in most days.’

His cycle ride will raise money for another charity but he wants it to raise awareness for the shed.

Gaynam and Tony Queree, 75, want to see the activities at the shed expand to include walks around the ramparts at Fort Brockhurst.

Gaynam, from Skipper Way, in Lee-on-the-Solent added the group is not a health service and has to be careful what it offers.

He said: ‘We’re having to be quite cautious, we can’t open our arms to the world. We decided if you have someone who is severely disabled they must come with a helper, because we can’t be held responsible for people like that. It keeps your brain ticking on.

‘It’s our parliament, and we do have discussions.

‘Generally, we’re fairly easy going people – that’s high on Martin’s agenda.’

WHERE IT STARTED

MORE than 4,000 people have seen a documentary made about the Gosport Shed.

The male pensioners in Gosport have attracted global attention after filmmaker David George from Utility Film made the documentary.

And Doctor Peter Lines, who emigrated from Gosport to Australia – the home of the shed movement – saw it too.

The 49-year-old GP lives in a town in the west of the country and had already set up his own project in a derelict building.

Speaking to The News, he said: ‘Although our Men’s Shed group has only a dozen members so far the idea has captured the town’s imagination. It allows everyone to offer their skills and expertise for a variety of self-directed activities. I am sure the Gosport Shed will offer the same environment, and the members will likely feel a renewed sense of engaging with others rather than languishing in retirement.’

WORLDWIDE ACCLAIM

MORE than 4,000 people have seen a documentary made about the Gosport Shed.

The male pensioners in Gosport have attracted global attention after filmmaker David George from Utility Film made the documentary.

And Doctor Peter Lines, who emigrated from Gosport to Australia – the home of the shed movement – saw it too.

The 49-year-old GP lives in a town in the west of the country and had already set up his own project in a derelict building.

Speaking to The News, he said: ‘Although our Men’s Shed group has only a dozen members so far the idea has captured the town’s imagination. It allows everyone to offer their skills and expertise for a variety of self-directed activities. I am sure the Gosport Shed will offer the same environment, and the members will likely feel a renewed sense of engaging with others rather than languishing in retirement.’