A new lease of life


The committee of Claremorris Men’s Shed are pictured with staff of Claremorris Family Resource Centre last week.
TEAM EFFORT?The committee of Claremorris Men’s Shed are pictured with staff of Claremorris Family Resource Centre last week.

A new lease of life

The Claremorris Men’s Shed Initiative has been a great success

Willie McHugh

“MEN don’t talk face-to-face; they talk shoulder” is the universal quote of the Men’s Shed Association. It holds true in Claremorris Men’s Shed too. It’s a hive of different activities in the well-appointed premises a local business person donated to the group.
Career Guidance Counsellors don’t dole out leaflets on working in Claremorris Men’s Shed. It’s also an unlikely destination to surface as a riposte to the nonsensical, “where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” interview poser anytime soon either.
It’s not where John Fallon planned to be. Ditto with Damian McHugh. But it’s where life’s bumpy path led them. They’re active here in a group of about thirty other similarly fated colleagues.
Today they’re covered in confetti of sawdust cutting up waste timber for firewood kindling. Monty, the shed dog, looks on while they’re renovating an old trailer. They have an eye out for a banjaxed tractor that members have expressed an interest in restoring.
At present Transition Year Students Nathan Boles and John Morley are assisting the men with developing their IT skills. It’s everyone learning together and off each other.
It’s how Claremorris Men’s Shed operates. The members’ ideas are the seedlings that germinate as the next project. They’ve a few strong strings to their bow already. The Men’s Shed float was the highlight of this year’s St Patrick’s Day Parade. Or ‘Blue September’ when they walked around Clare Lake in blue attire to raise awareness about men’s health.
But pride of place was the Claremorris Scarecrow Festival when the group decorated business premises’ windows in the town. Conceived when a member shared details of a similar event staged annually in his English hometown. It will grow up to become a Claremorris annual now. Already plans are in place for an even bigger and better 2014 Claremorris Scarecrow Festival.
Chairperson John Fallon is adamant that there’s no boss in Claremorris Men’s Shed as he sits at the desk under the shed logo.
“Everyone has access to this, or any other seat in here. There’s no head honcho. We all have our own reason for coming. Whether it’s only for a cup of tea and a chat, or getting involved in some project, it’s the same welcome everyone receives.
“We abide by a strict code of conduct and adhere to all health and safety guidelines. There is zero tolerance of alcohol or any illegal substances on the premises. No gambling of any form either, and it’s the lads themselves who ensure the rules are strictly enforced.”
John owned his own business but the downturn came and derailed him. “Ten years ago I had my own company but suddenly the slump came and, as well as having to deal with my business folding, I had a health issue and heart surgery to contend with also. It was either buckle under it or get on with it.
“I went to the girls in Claremorris Family Resource Centre and it was the best thing I did. The Men’s Shed gives me a sense of purpose. I’m as busy now as I ever was and, as well as looking after the family and my elderly mother, I have plenty here to keep me occupied too.”
Damian McHugh is PRO. “I worked in the hospitality sector in Ashford Castle and found myself unemployed when the economy went belly up. I saw something on Facebook about this place and decided to drop in. I was useless at DIY but now I’ve picked up so many little skills and they’re a lovely bunch. We share our knowledge and there’s such an array of talent here. I look after the website but I could be just as busy making tea or sweeping out the shed. “We’re all in this together and without it I’d probably be lying in bed until the middle of the day but now I have a reason to get up in the morning.”

TOM Garvin is a retired Eircom employee. He describes the men’s shed as a place without an agenda and no room for egos. Tom is busy planning a trip to England with the other members later this month. The weekend sojourn to Huddersfield came about after Karl Adrian shared details about rugby league matches in his hometown.     
Nuala Gilligan, Lisa Jordan and Rhona Murphy of Claremorris Family Resource Centre were instrumental in setting up the Claremorris Men’s Shed. They’re not pedalling any patronising guff when they speak of their immense pride in what the group have achieved. It’s now the project Claremorris Family Resource Centre trumpet eloquently about.  
Theirs is a handholding brief. Nuala Gilligan explains how the need for such an outlet became apparent shortly after the economic meltdown.
“We were getting an increasing number of unemployed men in their mid-40’s calling to the centre daily, enquiring about courses and what was available. Looking at men’s development programmes in the local area for submission to the Family Support Agency was something we were contracted to at the time so we combined the two.
“We ran a ‘Space For You’ programme and, while it wasn’t targeted at men specifically, we got a lot of feedback from them. One of the first things we organised was a Men’s Health Awareness Day and all the local businesses set up their own information stalls.
“From that a lot of men joined the group and it was from there the Men’s Shed took off. Our role here is to facilitate that. There’s a steering committee of about eight or ten and we only guide them and help sourcing of funding through HSE and the Department of Health who have been very supportive.”
The Men’s Shed had no official opening yet and chances are they might never bother with one. But for Nuala Gilligan, no ribbon cutting will surpass a March day gone when the men gathered with their families and opened the door of their premises in the centre of town.
“It was brilliant just to see the pride on their faces. They finally had their own space and somewhere purposeful for them to go. A couple arrived from Foxford with a camper van full of furniture and they kitted out their meeting room and kitchen.”
In Claremorris Men’s Shed they talk, work, and laugh shoulder-to-shoulder. And camaraderie is what glues the men within who wouldn’t give in.