It’s an idea from Australia and it’s all about using the skills developed in lifetime to create and recycle. The Rotherhithe Shed is part of a global movement that is offering social and practical support to older people of all sorts. The Shed meets each Thursday at the workshop of London Bubble Theatre Company in Elephant Lane and it’s a thriving and inclusive space welcoming fifteen to twenty people each week. Many have experience with practical skills such as carpentry, bike repair or sewing; others come along to progress their project – a resurfaced table or to make up some signs for the garden – and learn along the way.
“We go out of our way to make the Shed a positive place that welcomes everyone,” says Michael Breakey, who co-facilitates the Rotherhithe Shed. “It’s a delight to see people of all backgrounds and abilities sharing their skills and ideas, making things and friendships in a supportive atmosphere.” When I went to visit in March, the first thought of all those who greeted me was whether I’d yet had a bite to eat – sandwiches on offer – or a hot drink. The warmth and friendliness was tangible! Michael is an associate artist with London Bubble and has acted as the workshop animator for some years now. Devon Goodrich – Premises Officer – for Time and Talents is the other facilitator and brings a wealth of local links and practical skills.
- If it’s broken – fix it
- If you want it – make it
- If you’re thirsty – drink it
- If you have time – visit
Where did the idea come from?
Michael points me to the Men’s Sheds Association which links the English sheds together. “Mike Jenn was the inspiration of men’s sheds in the UK after he saw the work that was flourishing in Australia. He has been driving forward the movement here and now we can boast over 280 sheds across England and more are starting every week; some are really small – really just a garden shed – whilst others with funding from big organisations like Age UK offer a wide range of equipment and are open for much longer. The emphasis in them all is on sharing tools and skills to work on projects of members’ own choosing at their own pace and in a safe, inclusive and friendly environment. For some the Shed offers social contact where otherwise life is lonely; for others, it’s a chance to get to grips with projects that stretch their career skills in a new setting.”
“…But we know there are more older people in GP surgeries for example who would welcome what the Shed has to offer…
How did the Rotherhithe Shed come about?
“It is a collaboration between London Bubble who have the facility of the workshop to offer and Time and Talents, a local community development agency located just across the road who work with older people. Between us, we recognised the need for activities aimed mostly at men and so in Autumn 2014, we piloted the Shed for a few weeks. It proved successful, so we made a joint application to our local funder United St Saviour’s Charity and to the Big Lottery. The funding has allowed us to hire the space, buy materials and to pay our facilitators. We have been able to open two afternoons a week this last year but with funding more restricted again, we are now only open on Thursdays.”
Where do you want the Shed to go?
“We’ve been part of a number of great collaborations with other local organisations in recent days and I’d love to see that develop. In February, we worked with Bizzie Bodies on a workshop day as part of the SEE16 Arts Festival. We’d love to take our skills out to local schools and teach the children some of the skills we’ve gathered over the years. We are also looking for new sponsors so we can open more days of the week or take on some larger projects. We do go out to some of the local pubs to chat to locals about the Shed and our leaflet has been widely distributed. But we know there are more older people in GP surgeries for example who would welcome what the Shed has to offer.”
“…Many have experience with practical skills such as carpentry, bike repair or sewing; others come along to progress their project – a resurfaced table or to make up some signs for the garden – and learn along the way…”
So what sort of things have you all been up to?
Walking round the workshop, it’s clear that different members have very different ambitions. Some have a project of their own and each week they advance it steadily one step at a time. Others have already mastered welding or decoupage and are moving on to help others to realise their ideas. The room is full of activity and conversation with some men focused on the detail of their work whilst others are sharing a joke or working together on finishing something special. Some are sitting intent on their work in their wheelchairs whilst others move around between different areas of the workshop. It’s clear that you can turn up and be made very welcome, that all levels of skill and knowledge are welcome and that if you’ve something that needs fixing, the right people are in the room.
The group has renovated some models. They worked on some dolls houses for the local charity shop and had a yacht in for repair when I visited. One project took a redundant desktop computer, stripped out the innards and turned it into a smart piano stool, with cushioning on top and space below to store the music. Another project took an old table that had seen better days and used beautiful bird pictures to build a new surface for it. “Come in and have a cuppa,” says Michael. “We would love for more people to bring us their ideas or repairs and be willing to have a go. We won’t promise to fix your repair but you’ll get plenty of practical help and make some friends along the way!”
Michael Breakey – Rotherhithe Shed
T: 020 7237 4434 (London Bubble)
T: 020 7232 5663 (Time & Talents)
Rotherhithe Shed happens Thursday afternoons 13:00-17:00
London Bubble workshop 5 Elephant Lane SE16 4JD