Isle Of Man / Ellan Vannin

Isle of Man men find solace in a shed

Men In Sheds
Image caption Members are encouraged to share their skills and learn from each other

From the outside, the converted garage in Port Erin shows no sign of the activity going on inside.

But once the doors are opened a hive of activity is revealed, with about a dozen "shedders" working feverishly on a variety of projects.

The sound of tools is heightened by the smell of glue and fresh paint which fills the air.

The activity is all part of the Men In Sheds initiative which was launched in the Isle of Man last year.

The concept - developed in Australia as a novel weapon in the fight against high rates of male suicide and depression - has proved a big success on the island.

It gives retired men the opportunity to socialise and learn new skills in a relaxed environment.

The workshop is kitted out with tools and neatly ordered work benches, cupboards and shelves filled with the men's inventions.

The "shed" hums with activity and a fair dose of cheeky Manx humour as those inside do their best to set the world to rights.

Image caption Mr Shires plans to climb to Everest base camp to raise money for the project

One man is working on a detailed model boat while others work on woodwork and furniture projects.

The project's co-ordinator, Les Shires, 65, a retired buyer at the Ronaldsway Aircraft Company, greets visitors with a firm handshake.

"Welcome to the shed," he says.

Mr Shires was offered voluntary redundancy in 2010.

"I signed on for jobseekers and I was told I must start actively seeking employment. I thought 'I am 64, who the hell is going to employ me?'."

"I saw the advert for the project and I thought it looked interesting. I was right," he said with a grin.

Four years ago Mr Shires' wife died from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

"We were three years from retirement and we had so many exciting plans. This project was just what I needed," he said.

Image caption Bob Bagshaw, 89, is the most senior member of the group

On Tuesday, the 65-year-old will depart for the Himalayas to begin a trek to Everest base camp.

"Life doesn't stop. Everyone here has been very supportive and all the money will go towards the shed and the Samaritans," he said.

Supporters say the workshops are a breakthrough in men's health as the informal atmosphere encourages them to talk more about their problems - such as depression and loneliness.

A man in the corner of the shed is busy painting a beautiful model ship, apparently a scale model of the Manxman steamer.

Bob Bagshaw is the oldest member of the project at 89. His wife suffers from dementia.

"I love coming down here," he said, with a beaming smile and a paint brush in his hand.

"Everyone gets on famously and we are always swapping skills and making things."

On the same work bench sits 79-year-old Welshman Richard Blannin. "It's a fantastic place to spend time," he said.

Image caption Mr Blannin, 79, shares his carving skills with the rest of the men

While women are allowed into the shed they are not generally encouraged to do so.

As well as time in the shed, the men regularly display their creations at shows and help the community with their skills and ingenuity.

The Port Erin facility is acting as a pilot scheme for the project, but it is hoped the model can be replicated around the island.

The Manx branch has about 30 members and has recently been asked to join the UK Men In Sheds Association.

The shed itself was donated by the Department of Social Care and is rent free. It is funded through a number of grants and receives support from a number of local businesses. It is also a major part of the Southern Community Initiative.

Outside the workshop, a gaggle of men plot foundations for a new shed - to be exclusively for woodwork.

With an increasing number of men on the island over retirement age, the project is already looking at branching out.

Image caption The workshop is kitted out for a variety of skills to be practised

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