A group established six years ago in Limavady to promote safer communities in the Roe Valley is “saving lives”. That’s the bold claim from Catherine Taylor, project manager with ‘Be Safe Be Well’.
The organisation can boast a number of projects, including two Men’s Shed projects, in Limavady and in Foreglen, and they’ve just received £500,000 funding to expand in the north coast with a further two.
The idea behind the Men’s Shed is that men, aged 25 and over, can come together for support, and advice in a safe community, and learn new skills.
Members in Limavady and Foreglen range from 25 to 80, and include men who have just retired, men who have a bit of time on their hands to men who are out of work and feeling low, to men who are suffering mental health issues.
“We are changing lives, without a doubt,” Catherine told the ‘Journal’.
“We can see the difference in the mens’ lives, from the minute they timidly walk through the door. Within weeks they have relaxed because they’ve found a place in the Shed. They’ve found community and family.”
One of the men who would back up Ms Taylor’s claim is Roy Brown.
Roy eagerly makes the 150-yard walk from his home to the Men’s Shed on Roemill Road in Limavady several times a week.
He found out about the project a year ago, at a time when he said he had little hope and had suicidal thoughts.
The former jockey fell on hard times. With little hope about his future, the 58-year-old said he wanted to give up on life.
Roy said it was the Men’s Shed that made him get back on the saddle of life.
“It got bad for me,” he said. “Coming here and seeing the people, well they accepted me as I was. They had no expectations of me; no pressure whatsoever. It’s a home to me now. It’s a family.”
Roy described The Men’s Shed as a “godsend”.
“It’s given me a reason to carry on, quite literally, a reason to carry on. I had severe depression and a load of medical problems, but there are others who are worse off, but this has given me a reason to carry on. I look forward to the craic and doing something rather than sitting indoors and twiddling my thumbs. It’s given me something to connect with. To say they’re all friends would be an understatement. They’ve made me feel welcome right from the start. They’re more like family and literally gave me a reason to carry on. Without them I wouldn’t be here. I’ve learned new skills, and gained qualifications like First Aid and my Horticulture NVQ and they’ve got me teaching woodwork. If anyone was feeling like me, I would say don’t sit and twiddle your thumbs like I did. Join a Men’s Shed. It saved my life in more ways that one. I love it.”
Catherine said there are several men who have similar experiences like Roy. She said their experiences have helped teach staff too.
“They come to receive support, but they give a lot too and we, as staff, benefit from what they give. Roy brings an expertise to this Shed and a positive attitude. He’s someone who has been downtrodden but, given the right opportunity and he has thrived and we have benefitted and he would just be one of many,” said Catherine.
Peter Bonner, aged 59, is a member of The Men’s Shed in Foreglen. The electrician said he loves the community aspect of the group and the support it offers.
“It gives you something to look forward to, to plan ahead, something to do,” he explained.
Peter’s work was impacted with the recession, and he found himself going to the Men’s Shed.
At one point he went several times a week, but now it’s usually once a week.
“It’s changed my outlook as well, and helped me cope with things better. If you have a problem you can always talk to someone. It’s gives you that support,” he said. “It’s not for everybody, it just depends on the person themselves. I go one day a week, but there were weeks I was going four or five days a week. It’s great.”
Catherine said they work with a number of outside agencies which they sometimes receive referrals from.
“We would like a (government) department to invest in this because the impact this is having on mental health, positivity and on communities, is huge. We have saved lives here, no doubt about it.
“Most importantly, people have got a new lease of life,” said Catherine.
“One of the things we did was survey the families of the men because we are learning about the ripple effect we see when that man goes back home as a dad, a granddad, he’s a happier man.
“The ripple effect on the family situation is being felt and that has a huge effect on families and communities.”
Catherine is delighted with the funding boost from the Big Lottery Fund and hopes The Men’s Shed project will continue for a long time.
“Its members led, they have their say.
“They lead and tell us what’s working and what they want to do. It’s about listening to their voice.”