Participant observation: Men in Sheds @ Breightmet Hub

Project back ground

The Men in Sheds project at Breightmet Hub site has been running for over three months, the men meet up every Wednesday morning from 10-1pm where they learn a variety of new and traditional skills. The purpose of the Men in Sheds sessions is to address the multiple issues of isolation, depression and to help nurture confidence and well being. The site itself is situated in the middle of a social housing estate with a high level of poverty, lack of employment opportunities and sever cuts to social provision via in and out of work benefits.

Participants: project management and delivery

Social housing provider Bolton at Home  fund and manage this men in sheds project and others across the Bolton borough. My own position on the site could loosely be described as that of coordinator where I run my own horticultural sessions alongside the Men in sheds sessions where I support local residents who are growing some of their food at home, I also support them Men in Sheds sessions if and when I am needed. Both myself, Landrover Dave and Wynn Hutch who helps out on many of the session are part of Bolton Urban Growers and we are engaged in a number of collaborative and innovative community food growing and community development projects with Bolton at Home at different sites around the town.

Participants: The men who attend the sessions

The men who attend the session are aged between their late thirties to early sixties, many of the men suffer with a variety of health issues. Site tutor Landrover Dave teaches the men the rudiments of using both traditional hand tools and electrical power tools.There work has been varied, including the preparation and painting of our steel shipping container, they have also made fire baskets and space age garden planters from parts scavenged from old discarded washing machines, they have made raised beds for the site and a sturdy wooden stand for our thousand litre water container, and carried out a few metalwork jobs repairing a section of the sites gate.

nurturing ownership and belonging

The idea behind this way of organising and developing the men in sheds project as about two things, firstly creating a sense of ownership of the project amongst the men due to the fact that they actually building the men in sheds project from the ground up, and secondly to help them to develop a wide range of skills in the process.

Observing the Men in Sheds sessions

Since the men in sheds sessions first began I have been quietly watching and observing the men interacting and working. In the first couple of sessions the men were fairly quiet and exchanged the odd few words with other men as they worked, into weeks three and four, and men greeted each other by name when they arrived at the site, and talked about the work that they were doing on the day. by weeks five and six the men were having general conversations about their lives.

A place reached

Two months into the project and the Men crack jokes amongst their selves, there is lively ongoing collective banter and sense of humour when they are working together, and interestingly, when new men join the sessions they fit into the collective very quickly. In terms of the well being and confidence that is being nurtured and developed in the men, it is plain to see from my position as an observer that the men have a greater level of confidence in their work, which is due to Landrover Dave’s down to earth but expert approach of showing the men how things work. Some of the men have now started using their newly developed skills by carrying out DIY jobs at home or on their allotment plots.

Steve

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