five men standing together on a stage
Members of the goodShed on stage at the Tramshed (left to right Andrew Smart, Richard Melhuish, Martin Kilroy, David Hassey, and Michael Fairclough). Image credit: Richard Melhuish.

The Splott DIY shed that’s influencing help for men’s mental health in the UK

The men’s sheds movement has been running for years but now three friends in Cardiff are doing it differently

DO you need an actual shed to run a men’s shed?

The concept of creating ‘men’s sheds’ as a place for blokes to get together and do some DIY to help combat mental health issues and help the community has been a popular one in the UK.

But what happens if men who want to create a shed don’t have a physical property to use? And what about people who aren’t men?

The founders of goodShed in Splott didn’t let those problems get in their way and they now run a ‘shed’ as a pop-up, rather than from a permanent base – and it’s open to anyone to join in.

Those differences from the traditional model of running the sheds has caught the attention of the UK Men’s Sheds Association, which contacted them to see how their model might work in other places.

“They want to expand the Men’s Sheds movement but not specifically in the traditional way of a shed full of woodworking tools,” said Shed founder Richard Melhuish.

“They want to try and show that our model could work in other places so you don’t have to have a shed somewhere because in some communities it would be more difficult for people to organise.

“The idea is that men are notoriously bad at talking about their own health, but if they’re standing shoulder to shoulder making something they’re more likely to talk to other people.

“It’s very valuable and it really does a lot of good for the guys who go there but we try and do something different.” 

The goodShed is nominally based at Railway Gardens, a community hub and green space on the site of a derelict playground. The hub, run by the organisation Green Squirrel, hosts a variety of independent businesses run from shipping containers – and a Library of Things

Mr Melhuish joined Railway Gardens as part of the growing group.

He went to a talk early last year by Robert Visintainer from Men’s Sheds Cymru and was inspired to found the goodShed.

The Shed currently has three core members Mr Melhuish, Andrew Smart and Martin Kilroy but they are always keen for new people to join. 

Drop spindles, a traditional weaving method, made by the goodShed for the Guild of Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers. Image Credit: Richard Melhuish

Mr Kilroy said: We want to be more inclusive. We just give people opportunities.”

Mr Visintainer said: “The essence of Men’s Sheds lies in their diversity; each shed is a unique hub where activities are shaped by the skills and interests of its members. While the stereotype may lean towards woodworking, the reality is that Men’s Sheds encompass a broad spectrum of activities.”

Their location presents some challenges with a lack of indoor space limiting their activities in the Winter because they are dependent on the weather. They also meet between 2pm and 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon which can be difficult for working Shedders (the nickname for members of a Shed). 

However, it also gives them the opportunity to get involved with other groups and activities happening at Railway Gardens. Last summer Mr Smart cycled the Cardiff to Newport leg of the Running Out of Time relay, a sporting celebration of climate action and nature. He didn’t even own a bike when he agreed to the challenge. “I smashed it,” he said.  

The Shedders have also encouraged others to join the community at Railway Gardens.

Jon Parker, a clock repairer, came to the goodShed’s talk on the history of chainmail after Mr Melhuish advertised it to members of the Cardiff and District Woodworking Group.

Mr Parker had planned on retiring but a shipping container at Railway Gardens was empty and so he moved his shop in there. 

Talk on chainmail by museum conservator Phil Parkes. Image Credit: Richard Melhuish.

Mr Melhuish said: “That link, that sort of knock on effect is what the goodShed is all about really.”

Their current projects also include upcycling some rusted tables for the Things on Toast cafe at Railway Gardens and making a shadow puppet theatre for a children’s group. 

Mr Melhuish said that partnering with an established space also means they don’t have any rent or bills, so they don’t have to charge for membership which can be a barrier to some people joining other Sheds. 

Shedder Andrew Smart with a table designed for the Things on Toast café. Image Credit: Cerys Gardner.

The Shedders best experience so far was being part of Shoulder to Shoulder, Swansea City Opera’s production about a fictional shed. The Shedders played percussion, by banging tins of screws, at the Tramshed performance on November 21. At the show they also raffled off two wooden reindeers made by the group to raise £180 for Movember. 

“It’s a really powerful opera and it tells the story of mental health and how the Shed was able to help people,” Mr Melhuish said.  

The goodShed also runs talks and events outside of their regular Tuesday evening slot, a way that those unable to attend on a Tuesday can get involved. 

They were asked by the UK Men’s Sheds Association to do an Instagram live of their November talk by Shedder Nic Clarke, about his own experiences with mental health. This is something they plan to repeat for future talks, so that people who are unable to travel to Splott can still access the talk. 

In future, the group hopes to run more workshops, talks, and maybe even do some outdoor theatre at Railway Gardens because they enjoyed performing with the Swansea City Opera so much. 

The goodShed will be at the Railway Gardens’ Seed Swap on February 17 where they’ll sharpen and clean people’s gardening tools.