Representatives from Aberchirder and District Mens Shed in Aberdeenshire

Aberchirder and District Men’s Shed, a project previously funded through People’s Health Trust’s Active Communities programme, has received the Queens Award for Voluntary Services (QAVS) for their work in the community.

Through a mixture of community fundraising, grant support, voluntary work and donations, the Men’s Shed was built from an idea into a staple of the community. Mike O’Brien, the project’s Chair, reflects on their journey and the great achievements on the community over the past five years.

“As a team we are proud of what we have achieved in such a short period of time and also very proud of our community who have very much supported us from day one and taken us to their hearts by nominating us for the QAVS,” said Mike.

Aberchirder is a small community where around 1,200 people live in the heart of rural Aberdeenshire. Men’s Sheds have been formed around Great Britain as places for men to form social connections and share skills. In 2016, village librarian, Brenda King suggested that a Men’s Shed would be a good project for the community to establish.

“We thought the Men’s Shed sounded like a great idea so we began by persuading people to become Trustees and join the Committee. We started searching for premises and fundraising by holding coffee mornings.

We were delighted by how involved and engaged the community were. Our village turned out to support every coffee morning and learn about the Men’s Shed which led to 72 men signing up to the project,” explained Mike.

As part of their fundraising efforts the Committee applied for a grant from People’s Health Trust and was awarded £19,400 over a two-year funding period. Between 2016 and 2019 the Men’s Shed grew from an idea into a fully formed project, providing a place for residents to socialise, gain new skills and eventually provide vital support to their community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Talking about the support received from People’s Health Trust, project Chair, Mike said:

“Aberchirder and District Men’s Shed has grown into an integral part of our community and continues to evolve. Without funding from the People’s Health Trust and the advice of their staff, particularly our Partnership Officer, Charlotte Gal, we may not be in the grounded and solid position that we find ourselves in now.

We are now confident in our own abilities to continue to move forward to achieve our aims and objectives to provide facilities for men to come together and to alleviate loneliness and feelings of isolation within our community.”

The Men’s Shed also received support from their community. Aberdeenshire Council gave permission for the project to build on land and The Council Initiative Fund granted the Shed £4,700 pounds to erect a polytunnel. In April 2017, a local contractor was kind enough to permanently loan a JCB and a Komatsu Digger to the Shed and Founding Chairman, Kenny Christie, cut the first sod – a ceremonial tradition that celebrates the first day of construction on a project.

Whilst the building for the Men’s Shed was underway, the site became an area for the community to visit and share a tea or coffee. Even before the project had built a physical shed, it was providing an opportunity for people to come and form social connections.

Throughout 2017 the Men’s Shed became a usable community space, built by and for the residents of Aberchider. The project secured a kitchen, computers, furniture, and gardening and planting materials through donations and fundraising.

As the building process continued, monthly meetings were held with the 72 members to plan out the project activities. In 2019 the Men’s Shed was officially opened and 350 community members turned out for a day of music and entertainment, with refreshments provided free of charge as a gesture for the support and goodwill that the community had shown.

The opening of the Shed by the then Lord Lieutenant Clare Russel was acknowledged via a formal letter from Buckingham Palace, on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen.

The Men’s Shed has continued to grow from strength to strength, supporting their wider community whilst continuing to deliver activities at the Shed. Their community work included helping to build and dismantle greenhouses, mend or install garden fences and providing firewood. They also provided the local primary school with a chicken coop, an outdoor ‘mud kitchen’, and raised garden beds.

In October 2019, just three years after the idea for the Men’s Shed was formed the group won the inaugural Men’s Shed of the Year Award.

During the COVID-19 pandemic the project delivered shopping and visited members of the community who were feeling isolated, lonely, and vulnerable. It was this relationship and interaction with the community that subsequently led to their nomination for the Queens Award for Voluntary Services.

A formal presentation of the award will take place in the future. In the meantime the Men’s Shed continue to grow as an important hub of community activity in Aberchirder.