When they were first launched, one of the key aims of the Men’s Shed was to tackle loneliness and isolation by getting like-minded individuals together to develop their hobbies.
But with coronavirus putting a halt to many of their activities for much of 2020, Men’s Shed groups across the north and north-east are all too aware that many of their members have been left cut off.
And with some groups now on the brink of closure, desperate members are doing all they can to diversify and secure their shed can eventually reopen.
The Black Isle Men’s Shed in Avoch is among the dozens which have remained officially closed since lockdown.
However, some members have started meeting in the woods at the back of Fortrose to learn new skills and catch up around a campfire, whilst also embracing the world of Zoom to connect with those more vulnerable.
Chairman Steve Bramwell said: “We actually do work up in a wood just behind Fortrose where the wood owner is one of our members. We do some green woodworking which is carving and making all sorts of things from spoons to little carved figures.
“We’ve got a group of people that meet regularly and we socially distance. We light a fire and occasionally we will cook food over it and we’ll gather safely in that environment.
“That’s proved to be really popular as its taught us new skills so we do love that.”
Members struggling with ‘cruel’ loss of regular meet-ups
However, Mr Bramwell admitted that although there have been Zoom calls and a “very active WhatsApp group”, it has been a challenge to keep connected with everyone.
He added: “We work best with face to face contact.
“While there is a good heart at the centre of the group, I do think when we start up again we will genuinely have to rebuild and reach out to people again who have not been able to stay in contact.”
Jason Schroeder, executive officer of the Scottish Men’s Shed Association, said the last year has been a real struggle for members, who he knows only too well are struggling on life alone.
He said: “The big conversation and concern at the moment is the mental health of people and the effect of that.
“Members have overcome the isolation and loneliness because they go to Men’s Sheds.
“They now know what it’s like not to have that and know you have put them back into it again. I think that’s incredibly cruel.”
Members of Dingwall Men’s Shed have taken to embracing the great outdoors to stay connected.
A number of individuals have been spending time once a week working on the the craft garden around the Men’s Shed and are also e-mailing or calling those members staying at home.
Groups pulling together to benefit community in tough times
Chairman Brian Liddle said: “We can’t meet inside anymore, we can’t do what we used to do but we are still active socially just outside.
“It’s for those that don’t mind being outside in this weather whilst tackling a few things either in gardens and developing the garden at the men’s shed itself. Roughly about once a week we try to get together.
“You see the impact, in terms of the benefits to members and the work that the Men’s Shed have done throughout the community in helping keep amenities clear during this time of austerity and helping older people to their houses and gardens.”
The charity leader says he is heartened to see members pulling together in their time of need.
Mr Schroeder added: “We know there are thousands out there that are not leaving their houses at all. Some of the sheds have been going around getting messages and food from the shops and taking it to their mates who are too afraid to leave their houses and for other parts of the community as well which is fantastic.
“They are keeping really active and busy.”
The association is now testing a new system called Pathfindr which may help sheds reopen.
The small devices which can be placed round people’s neck was designed to help maintain the desired two metre distance. If members come too close, the device will beep reminding them to separate.
“We respond to the needs of our members, so what can we put in place to keep them as safe as possible and we feel the Pathfindr technology will certainly help that,” Mr Schroeder said.
“Guys that are not technologically connected via Zoom will hopefully feel safer to come and have some contact as a lot of our members live by themselves anyway and they are really isolated across the Highlands and Islands.”