Meet Ireland’s Starters: John from Castlepollard Men’s Shed

In the “Meet our Starters” series we invite people who start new ideas in their communities to share their stories with the ChangeX community: What gets them excited about an idea, how are they hoping it will benefit the community, how do they make it happen.

John started the Men’s Shed in Castlepollard, turning it also into a Grow it Yourself (GIY) group; working on food growing projects with the Shedders. 

(The image above has been taken at the Portlaoise Men’s Shed. The Castlepollard Shed doesn’t have a Polytunnel yet, but hopefully this will change soon. They are hoping to secure some funding from the Energia Get Ireland Growing Fund.)

Tell us about your Men’s Shed in Castlepollard, what’s the difference you are hoping to make.

Castlepollard Men’s Shed was set up in early 2016 to provide a place for men to meet, reducing their isolation and improving their health, both physical and mental. The idea of a Men’s Shed is based on the fact that men don’t talk face to face but shoulder to shoulder. In bygone days there were garages or forges where men met and chatted but with the passing of time these have disappeared, leaving men nowhere to meet on an informal basis for a chat except the pub.

The Men’s Shed fills that gap now. It is a place where the men meet, work together on different and various projects. play together at darts, cards, rings, boules etc and, most importantly, drink tea and chat together. It is mainly, but not exclusively, retired men who take part and it provides them with an opportunity to get out of the house and to become part of a wider community. The men are happier and more fulfilled, their wives and families are happier and the community as a whole is happier.

In which ways do you think GIY and growing food will add to that?

Many of the men were GIY gardeners in their younger years growing food for their families, but with their families gone and no one to use their produce combined with being less able, they let their gardens go and now miss their contact with the soil. There is a plot of land suitable for a garden adjacent to the Men’s Shed which we have started to reclaim. It is hoped to put a number of raised beds in this area and to rekindle the love of gardening among the men and to encourage them to share their know-how with less experienced gardeners.

I have a large garden which I spend many hours in but with a poor return for my efforts, so I look forward to learning from these experienced gardeners. I am also involved in the local Gardening Club and the local Tidy Towns and secured the agreement of both organisations to co-operate and help with this project.

What surprised you most after starting the Men’s Shed? 

It took a while for the idea of a Men’s Shed to take off but now, there are over twenty members who meet weekly and more who come on an occasional basis. The men come from a ten mile radius and it now appears that we may have to open the Shed more often to meet the demand. This demand is both surprising and gratifying.

Can you tell us about the biggest joy and the biggest challenge in running such a project. 

The biggest joy is to call in to the Shed on a Tuesday afternoon and see 15 men in their working clothes sitting around the table, drinking tea, laughing and joking and just enjoying the moment. The biggest challenge, apart from the financial challenges that face all voluntary organisations, is to get people to take on positions of responsibility and to ensure that there are sufficient worthwhile projects for the men to get involved in. Gardening is a good one as it never ends unlike making a piece of furniture which when it is done it is done. Having a tunnel would make it possible to garden regardless of weather or time of year.

Have you always been involved in community projects yourself? 

I have been involved in Community Projects all my life. I enjoy meeting and working with different people from different walks in life in voluntary organisations with a common end goal.

Tell us a little more about your community and other ideas you love, that in your eyes, make it a better place to live. 

Castlepollard is a town with about 1500 people. It is self sufficient in that it has good employment, both National and Secondary schools, a tesco supermarket, an hotel, GAA club, bank and Credit Union and a number of other shops and services. It is in North Westmeath and is surrounded by hills and lakes. There is a strong community spirit, not just in Castlepollard, but in the whole of North Westmeath.

If there is one thing that I would like to improve, it is that the different voluntary organisations would co-operate better with each other as working together, I believe that we could achieve a lot more for the Community making it a more attractive place for our families to remain in and for new people to move to.

Learn how to start your own Men’s Shed

Or how to start a GIY group