THE seed of an idea planted in Australia bore fruit in Hexham this week with the grand opening of Tynedale’s first Men’s Shed.

Designed to combat isolation and loneliness by providing a focus for male gatherings, the first such shed, established down under in 2007, has had the effect of a stone being thrown into a lake – the idea has rippled outwards across the globe.

The UK Men’s Sheds Association was launched in 2013, meeting the need for a central body that would support and raise awareness of the growing number being established on our shores.

Back then there were 30. Today there are more than 400, with another100 or so in the pipeline, and between them they are ‘second home’ to around 10,000 men who are known universally as Shedders.

Ann Rooke, for one, thought the movement was a fine idea when she heard about it during a programme on Radio 4. “My husband, John, loves his workshop and so when I heard a feature about the Camden Shed, one of the first in this country, it touched a chord,” she said.

“They were talking about the benefits of men having somewhere to go and I just thought ‘what a wonderful way of serving the community, to have a facility like this,.”

Pertinently, both she and John are members of Tynedale Lions Club and they quickly recognised that this type of project would offer the club itself a fresh opportunity.

She said they raised a lot of money each year through the Tynedale Beer Festival, held in Corbridge, funds which were then redistributed across local charitable enterprises.

What the Men’s Shed would allow them to do was to get involved at grassroots level, to instigate and run a charitable project directly.

“We did a lot of research into other Sheds in the region and found there wasn’t one between Newcastle and Carlisle, so we started talking to other organisations to find out what they thought.”

Tynedale Lions president Jonathan Hill said the feedback had been “100 per cent positive” from everybody they’d spoken to.

“We held a big workshop that was facilitated by Anne Lawson of Northumberland County Council’s community regeneration team,” he said. “Representatives from Mind, Chrysalis, the West Northumberland Food Bank and from all sectors of community support in Hexham came along.

“We had a big brainstorming session that produced a flood of Post It notes and discussion and the outcome was that a Men’s Shed was definitely needed here.”

That session also harnessed the bureaucratic and funding support required. The back garden of No 28, the community support hub in the east end of Hexham, had been identified as the obvious place to put it, and owner Karbon Homes was more than happy to do its bit.

Public relations officer Alice Midgley said: “No 28 was one of our properties that was gifted to Hexham Community Partnership, so this is building on a long-established relationship between the two.

“The Men’s Shed fits in perfectly with what we stand for as an organisation – it will do so much good for the men of this community.”

The activities that take place within its portals are as varied as the interests of the Shedders who take part. In short, they choose for themselves what they want to do.

Nationwide, the examples include metalwork, furniture restoration, electronics, model building and even kit car construction.

While Ann Rooke is the overall Hexham project co-ordinator, husband John and fellow retiree Philip Cain are the volunteer supervisors who will run the thrice-weekly gatherings in the Men’s Shed.

They will begin with traditional woodworking and allow the activities programme to evolve organically from there.

Philip said: “I’ve visited another Men’s Shed and members were bringing things from home for help in finishing them, so I think there will be a mixture of activities going on.

“It will depend on the Shedders themselves and what they most like doing.”

The pair are mid-way through kitting out the shed with work benches and saws and all manner of hand tools.

“I’m going to get one of these next,” said John, pointing to a catalogue picture of a scroll saw. It has a very fine blade.

“You can make jigsaws and toys with it. I thought the men might like it, because it’s not complicated to use and they can make toys for their children or grandchildren.”

With No 28 being a semi-detached in the middle of a housing estate, noise – or more precisely, the lack of it – was crucial. They have neighbours!

The shed is well insulated for sound as well as heat, and there has been a real drive to buy equipment that operates at the lowest decibels.

“We’ve tried very hard to minimise the possibility of any disruption,” he said. “We’re very conscious we’re in the middle of a residential area.”

John stressed that the Shed is not just for retired folk – it is for men of all ages and whatever their situation, but particularly those out of work.

At the very heart of the movement was the wish to provide members with a sense of purpose, companionship and solace. Moreover, the aim is to pour support into the void created by their frequent inability to talk about their feelings or seek help.

John said: “The strapline for the Shed movement is that while ‘Women talk face to face, Men talk shoulder to shoulder’.

“So it’s about giving men the type of opportunities women already have - the means of getting together for a coffee and a chat.

“We’ve spent a lot of time putting this project together and already, while we’ve been working on it, building the shed, there’s been a lot of banter.”

Claire Heaviside, the manager of No 28, is delighted with the new facility now on offer in the heart of the community.

Hexham Community Partnership had long recognised the need to provide more for men.

“I would like to say how keen we were to work with the Tynedale Lions,” she said. “We were so impressed with their vision and open approach to getting this fantastic idea happening here in Tynedale.

“The Men’s Shed will really complement our services and add an important new element for men of all ages, who will be able to share and to learn practical skills together.”

Anyone interested in becoming a Shedder can contact (01434) 605553.