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Colin Porter reports on the garden cultivated by members of Denbigh Men’s Shed, one of the most successful Men’s Sheds in Wales.
A few weeks ago I attended the annual meeting of Men’s Shed UK in Worcester. There are now over 400 Men’s Sheds in the UK which provide a workshop space where men (and sometimes women), usually but not exclusively of retirement age, can carry out renovation projects, craft work and community projects.
One of the projects that caught my eye was the excellent and creative display put on by the Denbigh Men’s Shed. Not only did they show me some of the craftwork they produce but they also explained that they have a garden that provides a productive and healing space for some members. This is their story.
Denbigh Men’s Shed has been in existence since 2014. It’s open 3-4 days a week, from 10 am to 2 pm, for 52 weeks a year. Their main day is a Thursday when they have between 35-40 members, ranging in age from their mid 20s to mid 80s. It’s on a Thursday that they feed an average of 28 members with a cooked lunch using as much produce from their garden as possible.
Their premises are owned by the local health board and sit in about two acres of land on the outskirts of Denbigh. There’s a main building with an arts and crafts area, pool table, piano and guitars and a large socialising room with a kitchen. In addition they have a workshop, a craft room and the garden.
A major key to its success has been the beautiful natural setting in which it sits with south facing gardens and grounds. It was in these grounds that they ran the first ever Shed Fest on World Mental Health Day in October 2015. Shed Fest is now an annual event.
Emma, who runs the garden, describes the people who make up the garden crew as a mixture of people with social anxiety, physical disabilities, learning difficulties, autism and also professionals ‘signed off’ from their careers as the result of stress.
Emma told me how the gardens help them to deal with their struggles – some relying on the garden because it’s the only thing they have going on in their lives. It can be a life-saver. This is not something she says lightly.
In the last year they’ve built a 20 x 20 foot community wellbeing shed from reclaimed materials and locally sourced timber. They’ve also replaced the old rotten shed, and built two living willow shelters, bug hotels, bird and bat boxes. A very generous grant from the local town council has enabled them to buy a 20 x 10 foot polytunnel, extending the productivity of their garden.
The garden has nine main plots, three herb gardens and one wildflower patch. They harvest their own seeds and have recently planted more than 20 donated fruit bushes.
Almost all the produce grown in the gardens is used to feed the members on a Thursday but some is also available to be bought for a donation. Some members take vegetables home to make their own meals. As Emma says, ‘ we support a lot of vulnerable people on very low incomes, so every little helps.
From my first meeting with Emma, I very quickly recognised her as the genuine article. Emma had her own mental health struggles in the past but as we agreed, ‘what doesn’t break you makes you stronger’. The work she does and the positive collective achievements of all the people involved is testimony to the fact that, although gardens and nature are a gift we sometimes lose sight of, they are always there to rediscover.
There are many different kinds of gardens and landscapes that facilitate health and wellbeing. The network embraces all projects and examples ranging from hospices, hospitals, care homes, clinics, prisons, community gardens, cancer centres as well as nature based therapeutic work such as Ecopsychology and horticulture therapy. Landscape is taken in its broadest sense, embracing the natural and designed environment, highlighting its many relationships to human health and wellbeing.