Loneliness: How one shed is bringing people together

media caption"People can meet and enjoy each other's company"

A woman has turned a rundown blacksmith's into a hub for people in a bid to tackle loneliness and isolation.

Belinda Gardiner turned the old forge in Clydach, Swansea, into a hub for the community after a chance conversation with her daughter Rhian.

She was living and working in Australia when she first heard about the Men's Shed movement and that phone call led to Belinda creating a shed of her own.

"It's a place for people to come and to meet other people," she said.

When the blacksmiths in the middle of the village came up for sale, Belinda took a deep breath and bought it.

Rhian said: "It wasn't a surprise at all. Mam is so involved with the community, she's amazing. I was just glad she did it."

image captionThe sheds are designed to combat isolation

The Men's Shed movement began in Australia in 2007 with the aim of providing places for retired men to meet and take part in projects ranging from carpentry to engineering - it was also a place to gather away from pubs.

The idea proved successful and soon spread to the US, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland and UK.

A recent gathering at the Welsh assembly saw "shedders" from across the country talking about the importance of the movement in their lives.

At the new shed in Clydach, a range of activities now unfolds each week, including lunch and practical activities.

Belinda said: "Some people come here who would otherwise be on their own. Others come here because they love doing things and love the banter.

"Everyone supports each other, which is what I like."

image captionRetired milkman Dennis Murphy is one of the oldest members of the group

At 84, retired milkman Dennis Murphy is one of the oldest members of the group - his wife died in January after 61 years of marriage.

"Coming here means I've got a future rather than being stuck in the house doing nothing," he said.

"I have gathered up a few more friends, some older, some younger. It's been great."

He wants to encourage other men who might feel lonely after retirement or a bereavement to join.

"Venture out, do not stay in the house," he said.

"I would definitely encourage other men to find a shed."

image captionGP Iestyn Davies prescribes the shed for some patients suffering from loneliness

Unlike some other sheds, this one opens its doors to women too.

Belinda said: "I think we are possibly unique in that the men don't mind the women and the women don't mind the men... so it's a mixed shed."

GP partner Iestyn Davies from the Cwm Tawe Medical Group said he felt the friendship and support offered by Belinda's shed could benefit many of his patients struggling with loneliness and isolation.

His practice recommends the shed as part of its social prescribing.

"Loneliness has really gathered pace in the last few years," he said.

"We're seeing a lot more of it and the shed is a great way for people to come together."

Belinda and the members of the Clydach shed also have big plans for the New Year.

They recently secured funding to improve the building and plan to build raised planters for the flowers and vegetables they are planning to grow.

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