Ahead of the Irish Men's Sheds Association's event on Saturday at Belfast City Hall, Billy McCord from Belfast and Roy Esdale from Islandmagee tell Stephanie Bell how the garden shed has given them both a new lease of life.
The garden shed has long served as a sanctuary for men - a place where they could go and be alone to get their head showered from the pressures of life.
Now, though, the popular tradition has been turned on its head and Men's Shed is bringing lone men together in a community setting which is proving a lifeline for many.
The phenomenon has taken off across the world and this Saturday will see the biggest gathering of shed members in the world at a special celebratory event in Belfast City Hall on the theme: Sheds without Borders.
The event, being organised by the Irish Men's Sheds Association (IMSA), is expected to attract over 400 men from Northern Ireland, the Republic, Great Britain and as far away as Australia.
Founded just five years ago, the Irish Men's Sheds Association represents sheds both here and in the Republic and has grown rapidly to 350 sheds, with 10,000 men attending weekly.
In Northern Ireland, numbers are also growing with 44 sheds and up to 1,000 weekly members.
Men's sheds are spaces where men can get together and work on projects. They're community-based and non-commercial, and are open to all men who want to enjoy a safe, friendly and inclusive environment, where they can work on meaningful projects at their own pace.
Reflecting on the growing popularity of men's sheds, CEO of the IMSA, Barry Sheridan explains: "It's a proven fact that men are less likely to talk about issues and reach out for help, but it's the combination of men meeting up for social chat and doing 'men's work' that has really resonated with men here.
"This unique concept has helped shed numbers to surge in popularity over the past five years, and our numbers are continuing to grow.
"The primary objective of our organisation is to advance the health and well-being of the participating men, through supporting the development and sustainability of Men's Sheds.
"We're focused on increasing the numbers of sheds in Northern Ireland, which is why Belfast City Hall was chosen as the venue for our 2016 Celebration and we've had a great response from sheds right across Ireland - in fact this is our biggest celebration event to date."
In 2013, research by Dr Lucia Carragher, a research fellow in NetwellCASALA - who will be among the speakers at this weekend's celebration - found that men who attended the sheds felt happier at home.
In fact an overwhelming 97% felt better about themselves, 88% said they had access to health information and 74% had improved home lives as a result of participating in the movement.
Saturday's celebration will also see the launch of 'Sheds for Life' - an Irish Men's Sheds Association men's health initiative.
Designed to provide practical support to improve the health and well-being of members and reduce the number of men who are at risk from preventable mental and physical illness, Edel Byrne, IMSA health and well-being co-ordinator, will launch the new initiative to Men's Sheds members.
"'Sheds for Life' is an exciting new programme that will provide a positive and holistic approach to men's health that builds on strengths of the existing health enhancing, supportive environment of the Men's Shed," adds Edel.
"The programme will work in collaboration with service providers to provide the resources and signposting for Men's Sheds members on health issues in line with the Healthy Ireland (ROI) and Making Lives Better (Northern Ireland) framework policies for health and well-being."
We caught up with two Men's Shed members from Belfast who say they have discovered a whole new lease of life since joining.
To find your nearest Men's Shed go to http://northernirelandmenssheds.org/ and then simply turn up. All men are welcome and can join at any time
Roy Esdale (80) from Islandmagee is a retired fireman. Roy, who has three children and two grandchildren, lost his wife Ellen seven years ago and found himself lost without his lifelong partner. His daughter discovered Men’s Shed online and Roy joined a year ago and says he hasn’t looked back. He says:
I was sitting at home one day feeling a bit low and it felt as if the walls were starting to close in on me. My daughter called and asked what was wrong and I told her I wasn’t great. She went on the internet and found the Men’s Shed and I said I would give it a try.
My wife and I went everywhere together and we did everything together. And you don’t realise until it happens and you lose someone how difficult it can be.
Starting the Men’s Shed was the greatest thing ever and I would recommend it to anyone. The guys there are fantastic.
They showed me how to do wood-turning, which is something I’ve never done before. I’ve enjoyed it so much I bought a lathe for my garage and when I am not at the Men’s Shed and feel a bit fed up I go into my garage and work on something.
I’ve made pens and jugs for flowers and candle holders — and just anything that comes into my head.
It is a fantastic place and anyone who is sitting at home I would tell them to get themselves down to their local Men’s Shed.
I go to the north Belfast one, although there are some closer to me in Islandmagee, but this is the one where I have got to know everyone and the people are great.
I usually go two days a week and it has made a big difference to my life.
I look forward to going. I try to get myself out most days and I still drive and enjoy driving and, if I’m at the Shed, I will take myself for a drive up the coast to have a bit of lunch.
When you are on your own your world does change and mine was changing for the worse until I found the Men’s Shed. I enjoy the company.
Some days I just go down to enjoy a cup of tea and a yarn with the other men and other days I go and work my socks off. It’s up to you and how you feel what you do when you are there.”
Billy McCord (66), a former store keeper, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2012 and had to retire early. He was struggling to fill his time when he discovered the Men’s Shed in 2013. He now volunteers five days a week with the shed at Duncairn Gardens, where he has also become a member of the management team. He describes finding the Shed as “life-changing”. Billy is married to Margaret (66) and has three children, Karen (32), Julie (42) and David (37). He says:
I lost my leg in a motorbike accident at 16 and have a prosthetic limb. I am well used to it now but it does slow me down a bit when I’m walking, and it does get sore, but I know when to stop.
In 2012 I was diagnosed with bowel cancer which was a terrible shock. The consultant just told me straight and I suppose there is no other way of telling you something like that other than to be blunt.
I had surgery and had a stoma bag put in and went through six months of chemotherapy. I had a scan a few months ago which shows that I am clear.
After that I just spent a lot of time sitting at home. I heard about the Men’s Shed when a leaflet came through the door. I realised I couldn’t just sit about doing nothing as my health would only get worse.
I went along to an open day in Duncairn Gardens and everyone was very friendly, and I haven’t left it from that day to this. I go five days a week as a volunteer, making the tea and helping everyone, and organising the equipment.
I also joined the management team to help run the place. I do love it and it gets me out of the house.
Some days we could have 30 men in the shed doing everything from wood carving to wood-turning and art, or there are people who just come along for a cup of tea and a chat. There is no pressure to do anything.
The camaraderie and the craic are just brilliant and it is all very relaxed. We go on day trips too and recently went to the Marble Arch Caves in Fermanagh and had a brilliant day out. We all meet at the Europa Bus Station and use our bus passes.
I’ve got a new lease of life since joining the Men’s Shed. I don’t go to my doctor nearly as often and your health is improving while you are there because you are not sitting about at home doing nothing, and you can talk to people and enjoy a bit of craic.
Men often don’t talk about their health issues so we do so in the Men’s Shed. My family would think there was something wrong with me now if I didn’t go to the shed.”