Increasingly society is becoming aware of the problem of loneliness. The shift toward individualism and the breakdown of the nuclear/extended family structure is beginning to take its toll, and finding meaningful relationships is an unwanted pressure.
As a church, whether through activities at the Hub, through our ‘supercharged friendships’, or any other interaction we have, we aim to have relationships that go beyond the superficial, beyond the surface. We aim to develop relationships of real depth, whether that’s amongst ourselves, or with others that we encounter on a regular basis.
Men’s Shed, an initiative shouldered by Chris Page, has that vision at its heart.
Around six years ago, Chris noticed a large man-shaped-gap in the activities we were running as a church. Much of our programme, particularly things with an evangelistic bent, were aimed, understandably, at women. Most things were being run mid-week, when it’s mainly women available, and let’s be honest, women are more likely to search out places of connection, more often finding themselves isolated at home with children.
Chris was stirred to consider what could be done for men, recognising that they, also, needed community.
One day he chanced upon an article about ‘Men’s Shed’, an organisation who do just that! Started in 2013, this charity already support 599 ‘Men’s Sheds’ across the UK. The vision tied up with what Chris was looking for – a place for men to connect; a place where men could just come and ‘be’. (Find out more: https://menssheds.org.uk/)
Once registered with the charity network, anyone interested in finding their local ‘shed’ could find us. Chris didn’t even have to advertise.
The location proved tricky at first: LifeLine’s community building – Castle Point – was not the best place to set up a workshop and even using the garage, rather than the main building, didn’t really work. However, with the availability of our recently purchased buildings at Andrews Corner in Dagenham, they had a space that wouldn’t just ‘do’ but was ideal.
They have a group of men who come regularly and to them it is a life line. Particularly during lockdown, when some were particularly struggling with their mental health, they were able to access the workshop. Just the chance to do something practical, and a change of scene from the confines of their homes, meant so much to them and was potentially lifesaving.
Often, men bring their own projects; sometimes, they work on things together, like the Christmas trees for the windows for the Hope This Christmas event, or props for last Christmas’ show. It isn’t about forced conversation or a specific agenda, but about the ‘coming alongside’ and the chance to get to know one another over time. It is gentle, but very much appreciated by those involved.
Chris is eager to see more, though is aware that he can’t be available to facilitate it the whole time. The workshop is available and if there were more people to ‘open-up’ and be present, perhaps it could do more. Equally, whilst not all men are ‘handy’, and like that sort of thing, there’s still plenty of opportunity to get involved and just come and befriend those who come.
As to the future? We’ve been challenged recently to dream about the new LifeLine building at Andrews Corner and what it could include – what if there was a space for this? What if there was a workshop where people could come and create, or paint, or sculpt and just find themselves a safe space to be? It is a nice thought for a creative person like me!
Want to know more about Men’s Shed or how to get involved? Contact Chris Page for more info.