Age UK Bromley and Greenwich

Award amount: £90,000

Case studies 

John, 89, a retired architect joined after retiring and had attended woodwork/carpentry classes for several years previously. John has been one of the team on several community projects, including building wooden bridges for Friends of a local park and an assault course for young people with autism, physical and mental health challenges.

“I really like what I’m doing, I’ve made amazing things – I really enjoy it – I still do.” John 

JJ, 80 (below), joined Men in Sheds a couple of months after it opened. JJ’s wife had recently died and he didn’t know what do do with himself and was in a very bad place. JJ has been a regular, skilled and very active member of the Shed, taking part in countless community projects, commissions and making items for sale. JJ is also one of the most prominent members involved in the Shed socials. 

” I enjoy coming here, if the Shed ever shut I would not know what to do with myself…” JJ

Organisation: Age UK Bromley and Greenwich

Men in Sheds

The Charity

Age UK Bromley and Greenwich is a local charity working in the community to support older people, their families and carers, with the aim to help everyone love later life. They have nearly 100 dedicated staff and over 400 volunteers helping deliver services and activities for older people in Bromley and Greenwich, including providing free advice and information, home support services, befriending and day centre activities. 

The need

The borough of Bromley has the highest population of people over the age of 65 in London. Over 25,000 older people in the borough are men and it is estimated that ~7,000 of them live alone. In Greenwich it is estimated that there are ~3,000 older men living alone and it is also the 19th most deprived local authority in England, with marked health inequalities. Loneliness and social isolation are harmful to health: research shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Social networks and friendships not only have an impact on reducing the risk of mortality or developing certain diseases, but also help individuals recover faster when they do fall ill. 

The project

Age UK Bromley and Greenwich were awarded a three-year grant in 2015 for a Coordinator’s salary for their Men in Sheds project. The aim of Men in Sheds is to reduce loneliness and social isolation experienced by older men, many of whom will have experienced a life changing event, such as retirement, redundancy or bereavement. Men in Sheds enables men to have social contact with other men in an activity-based setting, which improves health and wellbeing. The role of the Coordinator includes taking referrals from health and social care professionals, inducting new shed members, sourcing projects for members to get involved with and identifying any additional support needed, such as welfare benefits advice.

The objectives of the Men in Sheds project are: 

  • to achieve reduction in social isolation and loneliness among older men; 
  • to help build higher self-esteem and motivation through successful involvement in the group’s running, as well as learning new skills, teaching others and accomplishing specific woodworking assignments;
  • to help the wider community benefit from the project’s activities;
  • to share outcomes and offer support to others to encourage the setting up of similar projects in the UK.

Is it working?

656 men are currently involved with Age UK Bromley and Greenwich’s Men in Sheds project. The members’ survey in 2018 showed that  in respondents there had been: 

  • a 42% reduction in isolation and loneliness 
  • a 55% improvement in their social support networks 
  • a 32% increase in wellbeing overall
  • a 31% improvement in physical and mental health 

Parts of the project involved staging ‘How to’ tool sessions, where those with professional skills have run sessions to train other Shedders. These sessions involved more than 45 attendees, all of whom learnt new ideas and approaches to using tools. 

Across the Sheds members have also undertaken 33 community projects, with 99 Shedders taking part. These are a significant source of pride for the Shedders who are out and about in the community finding out where they can make the most impact. 

Word has spread about the Men in Sheds project, including via national television and at national conferences. The project is highly respected and through connections with the Age UK network and Men in Sheds movement nationally, Age UK Bromley and Greenwich has helped develop guidelines to help new Shedders start up their projects around the UK. This includes advice on everything from enrolling members and sourcing the right tools, to negotiating site rentals and encouraging timber donations from local firms. In 2018/19, they supported the set up of Repair Cafes in Cambridge and a new shed in Barking and Dagenham. 

Following the success of the Men in Sheds project, Age UK Bromley and Greenwich ran a pilot for a Women in Sheds, which included arts and crafts projects, and this has proved very popular with local older women.