The coordinator of the Porth branch of Men’s Sheds in Rhondda, Gerwyn Davies, says that being involved in the social project has changed his life.
Before retiring, Gerwyn worked as a team leader. He said: “I had a full life, I had good mental health, I had a family, and everything was normal. Then I retired from work through ill health and that’s where my mental health problems started.
“I was probably as low down as is possible for a human to get. I had severe mental health issues that caused me a lot of heartache, family wise. When you have mental health problems, you don’t see it yourself, so problems gradually got worse and I couldn’t identify it. My family identified it because of the change in my personality and it got to the stage where my mental health literally took over.”
The sheds, which are located across the UK, host various activities depending on the interests of the men in the group. They focus on the idea that men are more likely to open up about problems when they are shoulder to shoulder, engaging in a task which includes woodwork, sport and gardening.
The shed in Porth, which runs specifically woodworking activities, has members who have suffered from strokes, bereavement, mental health issues, loneliness and isolation. It offers a place for people to come together for a few hours a day and escape the problems they are facing in their personal lives.
An award of £499,863 from the National Lottery has helped provide the sheds with better machinery and equipment for their activities, improving the facilities and enabling the sheds to cater for more people.
After suffering from arthritic problems, Gerwyn joined Men’s Sheds to help with his deteriorating mental health. He continued: “I was feeling suicidal, and when you get to that point all you see are the negatives. At that time, I couldn’t see any way out.
“Coming to Men’s Sheds gave me a purpose to get up in the morning. It took me three attempts to come into the place but when I did, I was welcomed and over a period of weeks I was getting better.
“People come here for a couple of hours every day and they forget about their mental and physical problems. The problems will still be there when they go home, but it takes their mind away from it and that helps immeasurably. When your mental health stops for a few hours and you can think about something else, it’s such a relief. And that’s what we do. We’re not carers, but we care.”
The Porth shed also has members with physical difficulties and disabilities and the funding from the National Lottery has provided them with automated equipment that allows these members to use the machinery better. Gerwyn said: “The National Lottery funding has enabled us to get tools we can really do things with. Before, it would have been a saw or a hammer and nails or a screwdriver, now we have automated machines that help people with problems, and they can do better work for themselves.”
When asked what advice he would give to those suffering with their mental health, Gerwyn said: “Sitting there with a television remote in your hand, staring at that square box in the corner, that’s not life. This is life, come here and for a few hours every day, enjoy your life. If you make that one movement to come to a place like this, it can make all the difference.
“I wasn’t isolated anymore at home; I was meeting people and that helped me immensely. I’ll always have mental health issues, but now they’re behind me and the future is much brighter.”