Derry men's shed welcoming new members to tackle cost of living crisis

Ballykelly Men’s Shed are encouraging men of all backgrounds and walks of life to reach out for help from the group.

The Men’s Shed is a haven for people who would like to socialise, create furniture and art and learn new skills. The men also have a great community spirit, helping each other as well as reaching out to other organisations.

The group were in danger of closing earlier this year after funding issues left them unable to pay their rent. A few members came together and paid the outstanding debts out of their own pockets, because they couldn’t bear to lose their invaluable community hub. The group are now looking forward, preparing to become a ‘warm hub’ for the community; providing heat, food and company for people who are struggling with the cost of living crisis and the long winter.

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Michael Coyle said: “We have all backgrounds, religions and political preferences here and we welcome everyone. It does come up from time to time; we have discussions around it but it’s constructive discussions rather than anything else. New people would drop in here sometimes but it’s not often we can keep people. That doesn’t worry us at all, though, because if we are able to give relief to someone for a day, or maybe a couple of days, that’s a bonus to us.”

Members of Ballykelly Men's Shed.

Brian McCluskey said: “James does our Facebook page and he’s great at that. It’s great for us to have people here with a range of different skills. James looking after the Facebook and putting photos up means that he has an external reason to come back – we rely on him. Michael came here first to set up a phone line and we haven’t let him go! He’s recently set up a Camera Club which is going great.”

“We look at the very basics of photography first,” said Michael."We looked at how you hold a camera, how you get the photos onto the computer and things.We’ve had a few themes like nature and woodland greenery. There’s a benefit in that as well because it gets us out in the fresh air and enables us to critique, rather than criticize.”

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The Camera Club, as well as the woodwork, gardening and other activities, gives the members a chance to open up with each other while their hands are busy. James Sweeney said that ‘men talk shoulder to shoulder, rarely face to face’, and says that is how the men’s shed members are able to support each other.

“We’re trying to build up our list of activities at the minute,” Michael continued. “The members got together recently and looked at places we would like to visit. We might have three or four visits a year to places like Stormont or Wild Ireland, so that we can get out and be together. We’ve also discovered that Limavady is twinned with a town in France and with Westport and that there’s a men's shed in Westport. We’re looking to make a contact with them and possibly visit them in the future. “The problem with men's sheds is trying to figure out how to communicate with such a vast audience. Some people can’t use a mobile phone and others are very much into it. The width and breadth of the members is fantastic. We’re only open two days a week now but I could see that changing. Some of us won’t be able to come more than two days but there’s a flexibility there where people can call in whenever they’re able to and not feel under pressure.”Read more: Ballykelly Men’s Shed made Buddy Benches for local schools.

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Members of Ballykelly Men's Shed who are welcoming new member.

The centre was a hub of activity when the ‘Journal’ visited, with people moving sofas, washing machines and repairing a bed, while other members made tea asking if anyone needed help. The members explained that the furniture was donated and will either be used in the men’s shed to update their furniture, used for parts or sold to raise funds. They would be quick to donate anything, however, to anyone in the community in need. Robert Shaw explained that if someone in the community was homeless and got a new home, they would help as much as they can with furniture, teaching new skills and providing companionship.

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Michael said: “We built the polytunnel so that we can grow our own vegetables, and then use them to cook healthy meals at lunch time. A lot of men don’t know how to cook or prepare a meal but we have the skills and facilities to teach that to people and to teach about nutrition."

Brian said: "Money is tight for us at the minute, like it is for everyone but the more people we can get in, the more money we can make, which, in turn, enables us to help more people.”

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To become a member of Ballykelly Men’s Shed or to find out more about what they do, search Ballykelly Men’s Shed on Facebook.